After discussing plans for the future with Ilthulsin – a renegade mind flayer who’d been cast out of his city for opposing their plans to infuse themselves with negative energy – they concluded a deal: one Minotaur, patching up his surviving goblins, and necessary support in exchange for information and guidance. Kevin tried to fool him into believing that they really wanted to stay away from negative energy, elder dragons, and similar serious perils just as a precaution of sorts, but he seemed agreeable to the terms anyway.
It seemed that the Mind Flayers got a lot of traders in slaves, magical, and psionic devices and that they saw self-defense as quite acceptable (not much mutual loyalty evidently). Well, the wagon seemed to be stocked with a fair load of weapons and armor with minor local enchantments and Ilthulsin would be allowed back in if he was accompanying a group of traders. The wagon seemed to be “enchanted” to follow along, so they set up alternating watches and set off for the city of the mind flayers. It’d be about two days through the underdark’s maze of dark, damp, tunnels. The kids took turns sleeping, being on watch, and being general servants to keep up the pretense.
Soon enough it seemed like something was following them – and Ilthulsin noted that dark elf patrols were known to frequent the area. Unfortunately they were better as voluntary aides than slaves; they were too resistant to the enchantments to just compel them for long.
Marty just wanted to know if the dark elves had good-looking women (yes, but they were very dangerous). They decided to let whatever-it-was catch up and deal with it. It turned out to be something Ilthulsin thought was absolutely awful – the Cookie Monster. It was impossible for Mind Flayers to dominate, too brainless to eat, and too friendly to endure. Kevin left it with the kids: it should keep mind flayers from trying to scan them too closely even if they were “too old for cookie monster”. Apparently it’d followed some other kids out of its home realm, they’d all been caught by Ilthulsin, the kids had been old enough to be of use, and had had enough power among them to at least open existing gates. He’d been hoping to use them in the political games, but the others had taken them to work on the grand gate project (so much for the hope of getting them cheap).
The ensuing discussion of “reality”, and about their homeworlds, somewhat confused Benedict and Marty. Still, Kevin insisted that they had souls, and therefore were real, but that this might or might not be true of most of the people in their worlds… All souls came from, or were at least linked to, core originally though – and you needed one to act independently there. That’s why they had no luck treating all those Orc hordes: just no real mind in there to treat. Ilthulsin was interested as well, but thought that this “Core” sounded extremely inconvenient – and absurdly densely populated. No place could support that many people without collapsing into constant warfare.
They ran into a raiding party looking for plunder at about that point. Three drow, three dark dwarves, and two mind flayers under invisibility effects sneaking up from behind (who were noticed due to general paranoia and due to the “raiders” seeming just a bit too oblivious). The group set up their own counter-ambush and did some dispelling. Fortunately, the Mind Flayers proved no match for massed weapons fire – but one of the dwarves was damned good. He chopped Ilthulsin in half with a massive blow – but applying massive amounts of healing was enough to keep him alive, if in deep shock and semi-coma. The dwarf wound up opting to surrender after the group managed to render the rest of his allies unconscious.
With Ilthulsin unconscious, they were out a guide – so they persuaded the dwarven leader to guide them to a drow city in exchange for his freedom and a chance to ransom out his two relatives. The drow were only allies of opportunity and the Mind Flayers had been bossy idiots anyway.
The group wanted to know where they were (Toril/The Forgotten Realms/The Underdark), how people navigated (experience), the locations of some cities (vague descriptions thanks to the navigation difficulties), and about the local political factions (it seemed that the drow were having a civil war: Lloths daughter Elistrae had taken out two other deities and was after Mom and the mind flayers were trying to take advantage of it to gain greater powers and take over). There had been a fair number of adolescent and adult adventurers with lots of gear and odd books wandering about who talked about “core” a lot as well. They seemed to know a lot more than they had any right to. The more powerful ones were usually called “Munchkins” for some reason…
Well, it sounded like military gear would find a really good market and lots of other stuff would be going cheap. There should be some great trading opportunities open. Since the drow were from a losing faction they should be quite salable as well; the new goddess disapproved of slavery, but the practice was still thriving.
Besides, with major plotlines running, they wouldn’t be able to get away until they’d dealt with them.
Kevin offered the dwarven leader a deal: after he got them to a city, he could ransom his kin on the cheap – they could keep the books and gear and such, but a dozen of the weaker captured adolescents from core would make a fair trade. After all, they didn’t make good slaves without their gear (few local skills, no darksight, few innate special powers, etc).
Secondarily, he transformed Ilthulsin for the visit while he was unconscious. It seemed like the drow guards would probably want to interrogate any mind flayers they saw, even if they were unconscious renegades. Fortunately, “customs inspection” wasn’t too rigorous. Apparently almost anything went in a drow city – although it seemed that there was a bounty for on followers of Vhaerun, like the ones they’d captured. They respectfully visited the priestesses to turn them in.
The priestesses wanted to hire them for a job. Any human traders this deep in the underdark were obviously willing to take absurd risks for equally-absurd profits, so infiltrating a mind flayer city and reporting on what they were up to (and, if possible, providing a way for the drow to infiltrate or assault the place and reporting on some weird artifact the mind flayers had dug up) should be just up their alley. They were willing to pay well (in both money and local magic, up to +4 equivalent) and to supply enough (22) assorted humanoid underdark slaves to attract the mind flayers interest.
That sounded good. Marty went off to sell a bunch of the military gear (the market should be better in a drow town than in a mind flayer town where it was only used by slaves), then got a temporary polymorph for some experimental partying, and finally donated funds to the anti-slavery groups. Benedict went sword-shopping and found that magical swords were really common here, although most of the local techniques for actually using them were pretty basic. Kevin found that there were five young half-drow slaves with souls available for purchase (about “10”, 3 boys and two girls), the Dwarf sent off a message for his kinfolks ransom (as specified: a dozen 12-14-year-olds from core, 6 boys, 6 girls). He patched up and fed both sets and transformed them all to small figurines and put them carefully away in an inner pocket with charms against getting lost. That way they’d be safe until he could get them somewhere safer. All in all though, the stop was only for a few days.
After they got back to New York they should be able to find a proper gate to return the cookie monster too.