It was the best of climes;
It was the worst of climes.
It was the place of brilliance;
It was the place of madness.
It was the country of refinement;
It was the country of depravity.
It was the land of luminance;
It was the land of darkness.
It was the hovel of hope;
It was the crucible of calamity.
—Soveliss, the Drow Diplomat
It was the year 150 VP, and the nation was as prosperous as ever. The capital city, Wozington, was ever the center of civilization, community, and commerce. But then, a calamity struck the proud nation.
One spring morning, a portal to another plane of existence opened above Capitol Peak (the mountain that dwarfs the city of Wozington just to the north). This very thing happened 150 years before, that is why years are reckoned here by "VP," which stands for "Vernal Portal." This time, out of the portal came the entire structure that was the Old Capitol before the first portal took it away. The Old Capitol was then dropped on top of the stony peak. Everyone below the peak was afraid, confused, and curious.
Explorations to the peak revealed that the old city had become home to a new, hostile race: the githyanki warriors. They soon began preparing their armies to lay waste to the towns below. A few days later, amidst the panic in Wozington, Soveliss—a respected member of the Democratic Court and one of the very few drow who chose to stay on the Surface—sent out a proclamation, which read:
"My fellow citizens,
"In light of recent, troubling events, and seeing that our resources are limited, I have felt it wise to petition my own people, the militaristic drow, to help. I am well aware of the arguments and reasonings of skeptics, but I refuse to leave any option unexhausted.
"To aid me in this diplomatic mission, I am asking for representatives, skilled citizens with some degree of adventuring experience, to accompany me and my wife, Joyn'ill, to the drow city of Paerillyss down in the Subterrace. We will accept two individuals from the Surface and two more from the gnomish city of Glundawn below us, ensuring that our party provides a diversity of representation to encourage a unity of cause.
"I will be conducting walk-in interviews in my office continually through the next 48 hours. On the third day, those I've chosen will be contacted directly and we shall leave immediately for Paerillyss by way of Glundawn.
"I am well aware of the physical, mental, and political dangers that exist in the Subterrace, but I adamantly believe that this extraterrestrial threat could provide the cause that unites all known citizens of this nation and of its peaceful neighbors. If you possess the strength, the skill, the courage, and the faith, consider this an open invitation and a call to action.
"I eagerly await you in my office in the Judiciary of Wozington.
"With deep regards, as a humble servant of the people,
Many would-be adventurers answered Soveliss' call, including two of our heroes:
First, Dr. Phoebe Appleton, a half-elf "cleric" from the port city of Sonasea to the northeast. She was raised in poverty by a woman who made and distributed many home remedies for all injuries and ailments. When Phoebe came of age, she promised herself that she would never be poor again, and made her living as a "doctor." To be honest, she is a sort of "quack doctor" or "snake oil" doctor, since she never got a formal degree. Even so, her determination and her charm brought her out of rags into riches. Her best commodity is her home-made specialty: "Appleton's Fabulous Elixer. It Really Works! (no, really!)".
Next, Gregory the Great, a human performance magician (homebrew mix of bard & rogue), who also came from humble circumstances. In this case, from slavery by the "evil" drow. At least, he believes they are evil. But now he's made a living in making a show of his tricks wherever he finds himself. Quite the charismatic gentleman, top hat and all, he looked for any chance to share his talents with all people (for there's a lot of money and fame to be gotten from all people). Despite his ambitions, Gregory (the Great) is always happy to be of service, especially to a lovely young lady such as Dr. Phoebe Appleton.
These characters entered the Judiciary one right after the other, and the aging dwarf clerk, Ilde, directed them to Soveliss' office ("go up those stairs, take a right, left, left, three rights, another left, down two flights of stairs, and to the right; second door to your left, turn right, and straight ahead to the first on your right"). Luckily, there were signs in all the hallways to Soveliss' office, so no one could get lost. Soveliss was impressed by these two charismatic characters, and decided they would be the Surface representatives in this diplomatic mission. He contacted them both the next morning.
To those who live on the Surface, the underground realm is called the "Subterrace," while the subterranean natives prefer the term "Underland." Whatever you call it, Soveliss sent proclamations to the underground city of Glundawn, home to gnomes and dwarves. This proclamation was similar to the one for the Surface, but with an appeal to long-lasting friendship between the Surface and the Underland, as well as a warning that the alien invasion could spread underground. He concluded this proclamation like so:
"Although I wish the circumstances were less sobering, I eagerly await the opportunity to return to the Underland and converse with you for a brief time.
"With deep regards, as a humble servant of the people,
Soveliss, Joyn'ill, Phoebe, and Gregory embarked on a dirigible that could go beneath the Surface and float down to Glundawn for the second set of interviews. On the way down, Gregory wanted to prepare for a magic show during the interviews. The Subterrace doesn't see much traffic from the Surface. He asked Phoebe to be involved in the show as well, so they both could profit from the spectacle.
While the two travelers made a modest profit from their brief venture, Soveliss interviewed gnomes and dwarves for the diplomatic mission to the drow authorities. These two characters caught his attention:
Conseil, a dwarf puglist fighter with precious little to say. One can hardly blame him, for he had grown up in an especially hard slave life under an oppressive human. He proved his strength at an early age, and was soon forced to engage in fist fights for entertainment. At one particular fight, a gnomish woman named Tynx sabotaged the match with one of her gadgets and won the money she desperately needed. Conseil confronted her, having been the victim of her sabotage, demanding she buy his freedom. She complied, and the two of them soon became friends, working together as bounty hunters.
Tynx Waywocket, a female gnome engineer, was interviewed at the same time as Conseil. A true genius with technology, there was one objective that stayed out of reach, her greatest desire: to fly to the Surface. She has a set of prototype wings, although they still don't quite work. Nevertheless, she has an uncontainable energy and excitement for anything that dazzles, amazes, sparkles, or blows steam. This is contrasted heavily by Conseil's brooding silence. She does more than enough talking for the two of them.
Soveliss, impressed by this duo, invited them onto the dirigible (Tynx was especially fascinated by this flying contraption, as well as the metal automaton at the helm). The dirigible took off to the drow city of Paerylliss the next day.
Between the industrial Glundawna and the cruel beauty of Paerylliss, a deep gorge cuts through the earth, forming a great chasm, a giant vale between the two cities. Over the previous few days, Soveliss had become reminiscent of his Underland home, and had written a poem, "A Vale Between Two Cities," about this thoughts, which he read to his wife and the four adventurers who accompanied him on the way to Paerylliss (you can review that poem at the top of this chapter).
As the dirigible was flying above the chasm, it was struck by a great, unseen force. Explosions from the engine room and a terrible ripping sound came from above the characters' heads. The ship was under attack, and it wouldn't last for long!
Our heroes quickly gathered their belongings from their rooms just as streams of green, corrosive acid ripped through the wooden and metal carriage of the ship. Phoebe, having lost the heels on her shoes to the acid, couldn't get back in time before the ship tore apart in two pieces. Phoebe was on one half, while the rest of the party was on the other. Tynx and Conseil worked together with a grappling gun to attack themselves onto the chasm wall. Everyone else on the ships took some damage. Gregory tried to look outside to find the source of the attack, but he could only see a shiny black flying object against a black rock wall. The dirigible, both halves of it, came crashing down.
The party escaped from the wreckage, and salvaged all they could. The metal man at the helm was the only clear casualty (although Tynx was upset about it). Soveliss and Joyn'ill were deeply worried that they wouldn't make it to their diplomatic appointment with the Drow Matriarch in time. The party searched for a way up the sheer rocky chasm walls, and soon they found a torch-lit cave. inside the cave, a large entry room was carved out, with a doorway with stairs leading ahead, further down. In the middle of four stone pillars in this room was a large brass circle with an hourglass symbol etched into it. Tynx looked at the symbol and realized that she recognized it. Perhaps it was the symbol of someone she hadn't seen in many years.