Warren shivered as he looked down the rift. It wasn’t the darkness - as a drow he rarely had trouble with the dark. No, it was what he could see that was scaring him. Across the wide, empty space below were piles of rubble and dirt intermixed with large quantities of bones. Most were old and cracked, but more than he felt comfortable with were clean and new looking.
“What are those bones from?” Anastri was looking at the debris too, her forehead knit together. “Goblins usually aren’t that vicious towards their own species.”
“Dire rats,” Warren responded. “They infest the lower levels of the Under-dark. Not always dangerous, but in groups they can pose a threat to someone on their own. I doubt we need to worry about them very much though - a group should be good against up to eight or so and the clans are never that big.”
“Ok.” From his seat on the fallen pillar Salorien plucked a note on his viol. “So we should be fine.”
From above them a voice whispered, “Unless there’s a brood mother.”
Warren leapt without thinking, unsheathing his knives and glancing at the tree above him as he fell into a crouch, ready to stab whatever was up there. Curiously, there was nothing.
Hesitantly, Ash lowered his sword and looked at Anastri. “Is it...?”
Anastri lowered her hands and called, “Ria? Ria... Brackle? Is that you?”
Laughing, a younger wood elf slipped out of the tree where a moment before there had been nothing. “Close enough. Although it’s actually Briquel.” She pronounced her name in a clipped accent, the r’s short and fast and the i’s making an ee sound. It wasn’t Morgulian, but there were several places in Liath that had similar tones. None of them were near Oakhurst, or the Sunless Citadel.
Speechless, Warren glared at Anastri and Ash. “You know this person?”
Anastri at least had the decency to look slightly guilty. “I met her down here maybe half an hour ago. I was going to tell you guys, but it completely slipped my mind.”
“I just didn’t care enough.” Ash stalked over to Ria, who had seated herself on a bough of her tree with her legs dangling. “But now that she’s back I care a whole lot more. Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“Where are your parents? You look barely fifty.” There was a pause. “What?” Warren said indignantly at group. “I was feeling left out of the questioning.”
Ria slipped down from the tree and landed lightly on her feet. “My name is Ria Briquel, which I already told you and which you have already used as my name. I’m here on my own business, but it just so happens that my business aligns with yours and so,” she spread her arms out wide, “I’m here to help you. You’re welcome.”
Warren clapped his hands together. “Well, I guess that’s settled then. You seem interesting. Nobody else here is interesting. I propose that she joins the group.”
“How do we know if we can trust her,” Ash insisted and took a step toward where the wood elf was standing.
In a flash she was gone, only a rustling of leaves marking her passage through the tree. Ash tried to move forward again, but his feet were bound by snakelike vines wrapped around his ankles and he collapsed to the ground. Out of the tree Ria dropped like a cat, landing directly on Ash’s back with a knife in her hand. Leaning close, she whispered “If you couldn’t trust me, you wouldn’t be here to worry about it,” and stepped down onto the grass again. All of this occurred in the few seconds it took for the rest of them to realize what was going on, stand, and draw their weapons. Ria smiled sweetly.
“Well. I propose we move forward. Any of you have some rope?”