(report by Cullen)
"Laurantha the Unbeautiful to the Sorcerer of the Blue Mask and to my comrades at the Jarrod Memorial Library:
O! puissant one! My companions and I have delved deeper into the Azure Vaults than any have yet dared to go, and yet our expedition there was cut short by the appearance of a fearsome enemy beyond our strength. This is my account:
Compelled by the geas that you have lain about my shoulders (along with the estimable Barnabus Sleet and Rose Royce) to seek and slay the Elf-King Elexus within the Azure Vaults, I sought about for bold companions for a sortie deep into his very lair. Three were found: the dwarf warrior Brutal Pete, the ever weirder Sapphean Gratchit, and the promising fighting-man Mario de Parma. To swell our ranks for this foray, I also retained the pathetic creature known as Ralph, whom I equipped with new plate armor, while Brutal Pete hired the services of Baguette, a young halfling woman.
Thus assembled, we entered the Azure Vaults. Now, on my last sortie into these vaults, I and my then-companions almost fully explored the second level. But just before setting out this time, we were apprised by one Magic Meryl, my sometime adventuring-companion, that she and another expedition had ascended from the second level through the room where formerly had been witnessed a dragon chained to the wall (and from which my own expedition had thus reasonably fled).
My first intent, therefore, was to corroborate on my own maps this means of ingress and egress to the second level, and so rather than descending immediately through to the library on the second level, I guided my companions north along a different route. North from the entry-stair, we observed a kind of terrarium containing an ooze and a black pudding, which we did not overtly disturb; then, coming around a corner to the north of that, we found ourselves suddenly trapped as a cage fell around us, and the bars of an adjacent cage opened into the one we found ourselves within.
Now, this other larger cage was not empty--indeed, it contained three inhabitants, two gaunt and pallid humanoids which I surmised to be ghouls, and a scaly humanoid creature with wings, claws, and a horn upon its head, which thing I have never before observed. These attacked us immediately we were trapped with them, but Brutal Pete and I stepped forth, weapons bared, and made a good account of ourselves. While I slew the first ghoul, Pete held off the scaly humonculus. Mario stepped forth into the opening of the slain ghoul, but found himself paralyzed by the second ghoul's bite (this confirmed my suspicion as to their nature); I stepped up to prevent the ghoul from killing paralyzed Mario, and while Pete slew his foe, I decapitated mine.
Sapphean, grown ever weirder in each subsequent appearance, now stepped up and spat into Mario's mouth, which both set the poor man alight, yet also cured him of his paralysis. I confess, I intend never to be affected by any sort of curse in the company of this man, such that I should require his "ministrations".
These creatures slain at our feet, we easily broke open the cage that had trapped us with them, and continued our journey. To the east of this cage, we found a corridor that curved around to the south, sloping down the while, and which did ultimately enter into the very chamber where before I and other companions had seen a dragon chained to the wall (this dragon, of course, is the very one now delivered unto you, o! puissant sorcerer, and so was not present).
From this room, it was known to me that we must travel south into an east-west corridor, and then travel west past a couple cross-corridors, and then find a northern corridor that sloped down to level three. This path we followed, and found ourselves upon the third level of the Azure Vaults, our ears assaulted by a great tumult.
To the right, almost immediately east from the corridor opening onto the level, was a wide alcove to the north with a great double doors on the north wise, currently opened wide. A pair of lion-man guards flanked the door; I was able to peek sneakily around the corner without their noticing me, and did descry through the door some kind of court proceedings within great throne room of the Elf-King. An orc and a morloi, backs to the door, seemed to be involved in some dispute before the throne; and upon the throne itself, Elexus himself, almost one of the fair-folk in stature, and yet possessed of black eyes blacker than the dark between the stars, darker than the wings of Anglamorath the Black Dragon of Night. Even I was shaken, glimpsing these terrible orbs.
Turning away from this tumult as a party, we quickly explored what we could of the third level, and discovered first a great feast hall, well set with service of silver and gold, all prepared for some soon-coming banquet--and yet, all empty of people. While my companions set about quickly stealing what they could of the silver and gold, I myself poured out the wine at the high seat, and replaced it with my own enchanted mead, which can render a man wobbling-drunk with a single goblet. We may hope some brawl of drunkenness may ensue ...
Enriched by loot, we all quickly returned to the second level of the dungeon and deposited our jangling sacks behind the dung heaps in the emptied dragon-room; we then returned below to continue exploring. North of the banquet hall, we found a room with a cold door--Pete warned of possible brown mold, but opening the door, we found a cold meatlocker. The door north of that was heard to have rats behind it--a pantry perhaps? And the kitchen lay further north; turning south of the banquet hall, we discovered a sloping corridor down ... down to level four of the Azure Vaults. Stepping onto this level, we found a south-branching corridor immediately to our right, and rather than stepping further into level four, we decided to be bold and descended ever further, down to the fifth level of the Vault. Here, we found a cross of four corridors; to the east, we listened at a door and heard a tumult of some horde of rats; but when we sought to the west to explore further, we observed three pairs of red-glowing serpentine eyes swiftly approaching from the north.
I cast a web across the corridor in an attempt to block its approach, but the beast tore through like a man tearing aside cobwebs--and as its claws rent the fibers, we saw three draconic heads burst through, one red, one blue, and one white. Confronted by this horror, Mario preferred the better part of valor, and as we all withdrew in good order, Pete and I held the rear, slowed as we were in our plate armor. Here it was that Pete proved his excellence as a comrade, for he was variously prepared for pursuit.
As we went up the slope back to level four, Pete poured greased lard behind us, and we heard well the scrabbling of claws fighting for purchase. But the beast was swift, and presently its foetid breath washed over our backs again. On the slope back up to level three, Pete then poured out a sack of caltrops, which served both to slow the thing, and to enrage it--and it gave forth a terrible shrieking bellow that shook the walls! And alas, it was still coming swiftly after us, panting death, and at the last, Pete poured sovereign glue upon the floor, hoping to catch the creature's belly fast--and it worked! As we came around the corner and ran for the upslope back to level two, the dragon bellowed again behind us, and we heard a tumult from the throne room ... but we went swiftly back to the erstwhile dragon-room, collected our ill-gotten gains, and exited the dungeon.
Thus it is that we companions penetrated deeper into the Azure Vaults than any others yet have; and that is also how the markets around Vyzor have been flooded with the silver and gold service-wares imprinted with the Elf-King's marks.
Your lieutenant in the War Against the Elf-King,
Marvel 1991: Darkhawk #1 - By complete coincidence, I'm looking at this a week after Marvel published a Darkhawk 30th anniversary special, which answers one question I had about this...