After doing some research about the intentions of the Ambassador and his interest on our small continent of Faydwer, I was surprised to find out that there wasn't much information available, but just enough to know what was going on.
All the books taught me was that the dark elves were the sons and daughters of the God of Hate himself, Innoruuk. Innoruuk had abducted the first elven King and Queen, taking them to his realm, where they were slowly torn apart over 300 years of torture. He created the dark elves from the remains of the tortured royalty, molding them to his image, as to make fun of Tunare's noble children.
This race lived underground, in a complex maze of tunnels and caverns, which was their city, Neriak. There they co-habited with trolls and ogres, proving that there was a sort of understanding between the so-called evil races.
The dark elves had the same magical classes we did, and priests as well. But instead of holy knights, they had the opposite, shadowknights, which formed their armed forces along with warriors and deadly rogues (who spent their time picking pockets, lock picking and backstabbing). Then there were the necromancers, who commanded the dead. They all served the God of Hate, their cause was moved by darkness and shadows, their strength came from their desire of vengeance. Vengeance against us, against the Mother of All. They were shadow, we were light. Hate against love, death versus life.
Since the continent of Antonica was mostly ruled by humans, and moved by their aversion of other elves, the dark elves had decided to take over Faydwer. The plan was to send an Ambassador to secretly form an alliance with Emperor Crush, who was already Faydwer's mortal enemy, and that way persuade the Crushbone Clan to fight for the Indigo Brotherhood. This fact was unknown for ages, since no one knew of the Ambassador's existence, and only when organized squads started raiding the castle, the rumors of a Teir'Dal invasion were confirmed.
I wished I could bring Marla to the library, she could learn so much here, but even if Master Tabren would allow her presence, the others would not, and even if she could sneak in invisible, they would be able to spot her. I wondered if what she had heard from the bards was also what was in the books. It probably was, but it certainly sounds a lot more fun to hear these things in a song than to just read them in a book.
The next time Marla and I met, we both agreed to go somewhere other than Crushbone, which was obviously too dangerous for our limited experience, so we grabbed a map and decided to cross Lesser Faydark and head southeast to Steamfont Mountains, gnome territory.
We floated down from my window, invisible as usual, and rushed to the passage that connected the forests of Greater and Lesser Faydark, to once again experience that feeling of crossing an invisible membrane.
Lesser Fay was as dark as Greater Fay, perhaps even darker. We carried lanterns to light the way so we could see the dirt path that twisted and turned ahead of us.
- Do you know the way? – I asked her.
- I've only been there once, but all we need to do is follow the path and turn left at the crossing.
We walked for quite a while before reaching the crossing. There was a tower nearby, and around it, several bright little lights.
- What's over there?
- That's the pixie tower. There are so many of them in this area, many people come here to fight. The only real dangers are the pixie jonglers and Crookstinger.
- What's a Crookstinger?
- A giant poisonous wasp, and a really furious one at that, attacks everyone in it's way.
- What else is there around here?
- Giant spiders...
- I hate spiders... they give me the creeps.
- ...and orcs, there's a few camps of them around here. Beyond the tower, right behind that hill there's the faerie village, it's so cute!
We went there to peek over the hill and have a glimpse of the faerie village. It was beautiful! Their houses were mushrooms, and all over the little beings in pink dresses and sparkling wings floated happily around. In the middle of the village, we saw the Faerie Princess, with a strange thing beside her shaped like a gnome, but it wasn't one.
- Look, that is what gnomes do, they create machines. It's called tinkering. – Marla explained.
- Machines? They must be very smart. I wonder if that thing was a gift for the Princess.
- Maybe. But the Princess doesn't look as friendly, unlike the other faeries. But if you want hostile, try the brownies... they are really nasty creatures.
- The little people? But they're so adorable!
- Trust me, stay away from them. That's one thing you do not want to mess with. Besides, the only thing they're good for is to make chocolate! – she grinned.
We went back to following the path towards Steamfont, when all of a sudden a white shadow appeared in the corner of my eye and made me jump.
- What was that?
- What was what?
- The white shape, did you see it?
- Maybe I'm imagining things... lets just go.
We walked a little further, and I felt uncomfortable, as if someone or something was watching me. Then I saw it again, moving behind the trees.
- There it is again! – I walked over to the trees, with the lantern ahead of me.
Marla warned me not to get any closer, it could be a ghost or something dangerous, but what I felt wasn't danger, and it attracted me like a magnet.
Then the figure slowly came out from behind the trees. It was a white unicorn. The lengendary Equestrielle. I thought she was but a legend, but here I was, staring at those big loveable eyes that seemed to smile at me.
- Oh, my... – was all Marla could say.
The unicorn walked towards me and she touched my palm with her nose. She was soft and warm, the mane was so silky and bright, and her hooves were like pearls. She was glowing, and it all seemed like a dream. I caressed her back, and I felt as if all the goodness in the world was concentrated upon her.
Then, as fast as she appeared, she galloped away into the darkness of the trees. We were still in awe of the wonderful creature which had graced us with its presence. We walked in silence for a while, back to the path we followed. A group of colorful winged creatures flew by us, as if dancing to a melody we couldn't hear. As they approached, I noticed they weren't butterflies, but little dragons with butterfly wings.
- Fae drakes. – I broke the silence. – I've read about them.
- Yes, they are very popular. Too bad some only want them for their wings. – Said Marla.
Another moment of silence followed, this time broken by my druid friend.
- You've been blessed, you know?
- What do you mean?
- The unicorn, she touched you on her own free will. She's an extremely rare sight, and only appears to those who have a powerful magical aura and who are worth being trusted.
- And I have that?
- I guess so!- she smiled. – look, there's Steamfont straight ahead of us, I see the watcher's house already.
In fact, there was an odd building in sight, where a couple of gnomes dwelled.
- Good evening, little ones! – Marla greeted them.
- We prefer the term "vertically challenged", thank you very much!- one of them grumbled.
We tried to hide a smile, and Marla apologized. We kept walking towards a narrow curvilineal passage.
- Another barrier, I take it? – I asked.
- Indeed. You know you're in a different zone once you've crossed one.
Steamfont was strange. Plains, mountains and hills combined to form an unusual landscape sprinkled with billows of smoke. A ticking sound filled the air, coming from the dozens of mechanical creatures roaming around.
A patrolling gnome watcher saluted us and stopped to chat for a bit.
- Good evening ladies! What brings you to this quiet zone?
- We're just exploring, it's Sania's first time here. – Marla said pointing at me.
- What are these mechanical creatures? – I inquired.
- Oh, the clockworks? – the guard said in a most natural way – They're our specialty! Gnomes love to experiment and research, and they spend their lives building gadgets to serve all sorts of purposes.
The watcher offered to show us around. He pointed out the dog-like kobolds, and I recognized what pelts were used to make the orcs' tents. He showed us to the windmills, where drakes of different colors could be seen flying by. He warned us about the dangerous brittle skeletons, the contagious plague rats, the hostile minotaurs and the petrifying harpys. We also visited a druids circle, where Marla found a vendor who had some of her advanced spells for sale.
- We don't get many visitors, but when we do, they usually arrive through this circle. It's a magical portal used by druids, and occasionally, a group of travellers "lands" here.
We then walked to the entrance of Ak'anon, the gnome city. It was built inside a mountain, and we had to duck to get through the entrance and the hallway. It was dark inside, and the only source of light came from dim greenish lights scattered here and there, and the watchguard was kind enough to give us a tour, otherwise we would have surely gotten lost.
There was an waterfall and an enormous lake, with a narrow bridge ended on a tower in the middle of it. We tried going inside, but ducking up and down the ramps was uncomfortable and painful after a couple of minutes, so we went back to the bridge and took a walk around the lake.
We learned gnomes had the three standard magical occupations, but they also had necromancers. They had clerics as well, rogues and warriors for men-at-arms. But they were all tinkers at heart.
It was somewhat funny to see such small beings working on huge gadgets, and even when things went wrong, they wouldn't give up and would start all over again.
- Our scientists are known for building the right machine for the right occasion. For them, building something is as important as saving the world.
They weren't used to visitors, and the guard surely wasn't used to being a guide, although he did a great job. It was a lovely evening, and they even gave us each a tiny clockwork spider for a gift, which we promised to keep for as long as we lived, as a souvenir from our visit.