The Infernal Ghoul

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Standing in the long corridor, Lilith casts a spell and creates a number of semi tangible, visible magical orbs. She sends one of the prying eyes into the cave. It returns shortly to her hand, and in her mind the cleric sees headstones, two mounds of bodies with their belongings intact, armor and weapons. It seems to be a lair. Then the images move towards a very ugly being; a dark goblin or a ghoul. Its battered robe ends in sharp claws and a long tongue protrudes from its mouth. The creature looks extraplanar -maybe undead- and is heavily muscled. Lilith suddenly loses sight of the creature when it jumps from view. The prying eye, its task done, disappears.

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The cleric sends in another eye with the assignment to look out for the monster, and soon it returns, depicting that the ghoul is hiding high up in the stalactites! She gathers her siblings close and, calling out to the Spider Queen, buffs them with three spells. The effect is immediately noticeable: they feel stronger, have a stronger conviction and feel more protected.

A bunch of skeletons rattles near, and Jharrath unleashes a fireball in their midst. A nice explosion destroys five skeletons and anything of value they might have carried on their bodies. When the fire dies out, Phaedra charges down the hallway and damages a skeleton with her spiked chain. Five more stand up and attack the scout. Alvra steps forward and readies for action, but Lilith rebukes the undead. Within sixty feet all flee or cower in fear. Quickly she commands them to attack their master… but since she’s their new master… “Stupid creatures”, she mutters, and crushes bones with her flail.

Suddenly an energy ball streaks towards the Xaniqos, crackling with blue-black substance. The ball expands and Jharrath recognizes it as the evocation chaos hammer. When the chaos hammer hits, the only one who is temporarily affected is the wizard, who stayed behind. He casts darkness behind him and starts moving towards Alvra and Lilith.

Meanwhile Phaedra is battling the skeletons, aided by Alvra. Lilith gives the undead a new command and orders them to go to the master of the cave, but before they can abide, the ghoul appears -seemingly out of nowhere- next to the inadequately protected wizard. Its claw with long sharp nails lashes out and rakes into Jharrath’s flesh. The wizard is paralyzed and the smell of sulfur and soot fills the air. All his magical protection is gone. “I’m saving most of you for later,” the ghoul telepathically transmits to Jharrath, “but for now, just a bite…” Its teeth sink into the drow’s shoulder and start chewing.

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The skeletons, now firmly under command of Lilith, start moving towards the ghoul. The cleric looks up and sees the ghoul, chewing on her brother. She calls upon her deity and sends forth a bolt of cold darkness from her left hand. Overwhelmed by the evil charge of the darkbolt, the beast is momentarily stunned.

Alvra, our foolish brother is being eaten alive! Hurry!

No longer under the ghoul’s influence, Jharrath comes to his senses and soon five mirror images appear next to him, mirroring his every move. Phaedra hears her sister’s call. She steps back and kills the last bone creature near her, then walks back towards Alvra. Together they see six Jharraths, very sick and heavily wounded. Blood oozes from multiple bite wounds, and shards of flesh dangle from his shoulder.

“What’s happening?”, the fighter yells to Lilith, readying for a charge. “Watch out. Ghoul!”, is her reply. As if on cue, the monster shakes off the cleric’s spell. Lilith’s second darkbolt misses, but her flame strike hits the target. Jharrath aids by summoning an earth element, which starts to grapple the ghoulish fiend. The opponents battle back and forth, and the drow tensely watch the fight when suddenly… they disappear. The ghoul has taken the elemental to another plane by shadow walk!

Phaedra takes a defensive stance, waiting for the monster to reappear; Alvra and Lilith ready their weapons. The wizard holds a Kelgore’s firebolt at his command. The siblings are on high alert, but minutes pass and nothing happens. The scout checks out the cave and sees corpses of gnolls, a drow female and a bugbear. Their equipment is near, and Phaedra notices a  large javelin and two black gloves, the former owner’s hands still in them. The items look very good. She’s about to turn around, when she feels a foul presence. A filthy claw rakes through her flesh. She steps back, counterattacks and hits the fiend with a burst of light. The light seems to have no effect though.

Lilith cautiously searches the corridor and draws nearer to the entrance of the cave, a darkbolt sizzling over her hand. Her brothers follow her.

The ghoul takes a step forward and his tongue lashes out, but the drow elf disappears and becomes visible a bit further away. Phaedra calls out to her siblings, and the cleric rushes forward towards the opening. Her dark bolts have dissipated, so she takes out her flail. A large earth elemental appears next to the ghoul, summoned by Jharrath. It grapples the ghoul in close combat, while Phaedra makes a full retreat and runs for the corridor. Alvra stands shoulder to shoulder with Lilith, protecting his mistress. He notices how the ghoul moves without a sound, a real predator.

Their opponent touches the big elemental and again they disappear. Jharrath moves aside to make room for the fighter. Suddenly the beast reappears, surprising Alvra. Its attack hits in full force, and immediately the drow male is paralyzed. His magical defenses and buffs are gone. Again the wizard summons an earth elemental, and it hits the ghoul. When Lilith furiously attacks the beast too, she fumbles, and in stead, the beast hits her. She’s paralyzed as well!

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Jharrath hurls the Kelgore’s firebolt and a shard of red-hot rock streaks through the air, a nimbus of arcane energy crackles around it. It’s a hit. Phaedra looks at the ghoul -nimble and strong- and moves towards it. As her attack fails, the ghoul has no difficulty stepping towards Alvra. It drains energy from the fighter and hacks at him with its claws. Alvra lights go out, and he goes down hard.

While the monster is gloating over its victory, the medium earth elemental bull rushes the ghoul backwards. Quickly Lilith focuses her will and fully heals her fighter brother. Alvra regains consciousness, winks at his mistress and then attacks the ghoul from the ground with his short sword. There is no time or strength left in Alvra to get up. Another Kelgore’s firebolt hits the ghoul, while the scout tumbles through. Again she attacks, but due to the high natural armor and high dexterity, she misses.

The ghoul, bleeding and battered, is now attacked simultaneously from four sides. A grimace distorts its face. It looks around, assesses the situation and, with a mighty jump, scampers away.

The Xaniqos look at each other, panting and dripping blood. The cleric calls her siblings close into a healing circle, with special care for the wizard. When they catch their breath, the fighter and scout set out to investigate the cave. Phaedra a chainmail, shield, cloak and leather armor, all magical, and a sharp dagger. Alvra checks out the items that Phaedra noticed earlier. The javelin is of excellent quality, the head formed like an electric bolt. The black gloves are well made and have a magical aura. He shows the javelin to Lilith, who lets Alvra keep the weapon. She tells the wizard to identify the gloves.

But it will take a long time to…

I said, immediately!

As you wish.

Jharrath bows slightly and prepares his spell. After an hour he reports:

These are gloves of lightning, mistress. Three times a day they can be used in a ranged attack.

They move away from the smelly cave and resume their journey. The terrain climbs slowly, ever upward, and after a long while their path takes a sharp turn. The scout peeks around the corner, very silent, and sees four statues with spiders. She takes a closer look and realizes they are back at the portal! Their relief is short-lived though, when they hear footsteps. Someone’s coming! A familiar hairy face greets them: the draegloth!

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Laergath, what are you doing here?!,

Phaedra exclaims. His pelt is splattered with blood. With a wicked smile, the half demon – half drow replies.

We almost gave up hope and thought you would not come back. Lady Thandysha has sent me to find you. Of all search parties, none have returned. And don’t worry: this blood is not mine. In my search I came upon some others, but they are not looting anymore.

His grin is terrible to witness, the teeth pointed and still red.

I guess your reward will be great. Or your punishment. Come now, I will escort you back to town, because your mother can wait no longer. We have to be careful though. Scouting parties of House Shi’quos and others are still walking around.  House Vae has had no news from their scouts either. And Thorntor is collecting a big army. We have to evade them.

The draegloth accompanies them safely back to Erelhei-Cinlu. His manoeuvres to evade the other searching parties are successful, though it takes them several days to return.

 

 

The Cloaker Lord

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The Xaniqos try to rest, while Phaedra keeps watch. It is unnerving to hear and not see. When two hours have passed, new flapping sounds can be heard close to where they were ambushed. They don’t seem to come closer though, and the scout doesn’t feel she ought to wake the others – yet. After a while, Alvra takes over the watch; he’s not totally rested but does feel somewhat better. In the quiet of the night the fighter hears moaning wails, one answering the other. His fighting experience tells him that an attack is impending, since the beasts are gathering again. When the numbers keep growing, the urgency to leave grows too and he softly wakes Lilith. Trusting her brother’s instincts, she orders him to wake the others and dons her armor. Jharrath’s spells have not returned yet, and neither have her own, but their enemies are approaching once more.

Jharrath has just cast tentacles of force, when a loud sonic screech resounds. The sound grates on their nerves, but, apart from Phaedra who starts shaking, the drow break loose from the effect. While the dreadful moaning continues, the cleric gazes beyond the tentacles and catches not only glimpses of cloakers, but also of a larger specimen in the shadows of the Underdark tunnel. She grabs her sister’s hand and pulls her along – away from the area – with Alvra in the lead. Suddenly Lilith notices how the air shimmers near them: someone – or something – is coming!

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A huge cloaker materializes from the shadows near the wizard, several smaller ones hovering near. Jharrath uses his dimension boots and reappears in front of his siblings. Alvra keeps on running full speed, with his sisters on his heels, Phaedra being guided by Lilith. The scout seems to be in a deep trance, unable to defend or attack. The winged beasts follow in formation. Jharrath casts a fireball at their attackers, but again the Cloaker Lord plane shifts. The explosion rocks the corridors and for a little while the moaning stops. The drow get the feeling they’re being herded, the creatures are waiting for them to take a wrong turn. Alvra is somehow able to avoid the dead ends and seems to know where he’s going.

After fifteen minutes of hot pursuit, the moaning stops and then seems to go away entirely. The fighter still keeps on running, and when they’re no longer able, forces them into a quick march. Suddenly he hears an alien, sonic voice saying ‘And stay back!’, while the last word eerily echoes through the underground. He has the feeling this might have been their end. When Phaedra, who has come to her senses, hears about the apparition, she tells her siblings this was probably a cloaker lord, a superior sub-race of this feared subterranean race.

Once they have caught their breath, they continue once more. Alvra doesn’t know exactly where he is, but he manages to find them a reasonably safe spot where they can rest. He keeps watch though, and stays alert throughout the night. The darkness stays quiet.

The Guardian of the Astral Shard

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They arrive at a small circular room at the end of the stairs. On the plateau is a large, glass cylinder with a serpentine body wrapped around it. The snake has a powerful woman’s head. Inside of the cylinder a bright, white crystal shines. There’s no doubt in their minds: here is the gem they have been looking for!

150525shardStand clear of the Astral Shard, or by Uliordell’s command, I must slay you!

When Jharrath hears the stern female voice utter this threat, he walks past the others and stands next to Phaedra.

I will stop here, I do not want to disturb you further.

And to his siblings

Don’t attack yet, this seems to be a guardian naga. She seems to be under some kind of spell.

Lilith calls upon her deity to try and break the enchantment, but before this has the desired effect, the naga attacks – almost with regret it seems. She mutters a few words and suddenly she moves faster. The cleric’s faith doesn’t waver and she focuses herself on the spell.

Phaedra tumbles next to the snake and her spiked chain lashes out, though in vain: the guardian is too fast. Alvra’s attack also misses, and the serpent seizes the opportunity to set her teeth in the fighter. Immediately he feels greatly weakened. His sister evades a poison spit attack, and ends up in the room with the energy threads. Irritated, she dashes up the stairs again and tumbles back to her former position. Taking a moment to drink a potion of anti-toxin, Alvra steps back, keeping a wary eye on the naga.

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Abandoning her spell to break the naga’s enchantment, Lilith prepares an attack, and a moment later four rays of black light slam into the serpent, which hisses in pain. Jharrath follows up with a spell of his own, and yells

Hang on, I think the enchantment is broken!

Phaedra ceases the attack, while the fighter waits in full defense.

Stop attacking immediately and surrender!

The naga breaks loose from her trance and looks around, confused. The cleric applies her diplomatic skills.

We freed you from a spell the mindflayer set upon you. You are free to return to your plane.

Why would I choose to trust yet another evil? I can not even leave this tower as I am too big. Will you transport me away?

When the answer turned out to be negative, she rages and vows to take the group with her in her death. Jharrath summons five small elementals and orders them to protect the Xaniqos, should the snake attack. A moment later she does just that.

Lilith’s attempt at casting a blindness spell fails, while her sister’s strike hardly does any damage. The serpent counterattacks with a fireball, and the ravaging fire hits the elementals and their conjurer. Even the naga gets hurt, but she doesn’t care in her state of distress. She heals herself, but again gets wounded by Alvra’s javelins and the wizard’s Kellgore’s firebolt.

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Drinking a potion of anti-toxin seems like a wise thing to do, and soon Jharrath wishes he had done the same as Phaedra, for he gets hit by a venomous spitting attack. The poison enters his skin and bloodstream, and he topples, close to death. The cleric rushes to Jharrath’s side and manages to safe his life with some quick aid. Meanwhile the naga repeatedly snaps her fangs close to Phaedra, but misses. One of Alvra’s javelins doesn’t though, and he follows through with his sword. The wizard pulls his wand and torches the guardian with scorching rays. The spiked chain rips another chunk of meat off the creature. The snake pulls herself together and sends a wall of fire towards Lilith. Momentarily distracted, she doesn’t pay attention, and Alvra immediately steps in to deal the killing strike. The guardian naga is defeated, and the Astral Shard beckons…

Mindful fighting

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Phaedra is hit by the mind flayer’s psionic blast, which she manages to repel. It still feels nasty though. Eight lizard-like creatures swarm from the statue and head towards the scout. The beasts resemble two-legged lizards with long, flexible tails. Having no neck, their massive mouths with three mandibles are attached directly to their bodies. The ethereal marauders utter an irritating whining sound.

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With her crossbow at ready, the scout ducks behind the statue. The others arrive at the landing too and see their sister surrounded by muzzles with legs, but before they can jump into action, another psionic blast hits the room. Lilith and her wizard brother are safe, but two marauders are not that fortunate. They freeze, while the others disappear. Phaedra tumbles past them and casts a spell, so she – and only she – is able to see these ethereal creatures.

Alvra, having passed a living room on his way down, finally finds his siblings again. He almost bumps into the wizard on the stairs. The fighter continues towards the opening and sees a mind flayer, the drow sisters and two open mouths.

A sizzling fireball whizzes towards the illithid. The statue and part of the wall are blackened, but the mind flayer isn’t bothered at all. When the cleric launches a flame strike, the octopus head vanishes, only to reappear behind Jharrath. The wizard feels a presence next to him and uses his boots to teleport. Now he ends up in the room with the silver strands. Like his brother before, Jharrath passes a room with an ice sphere of crystal clear light on his way down. A large, unearthly beast with spikes is caught in the middle of it. As he watches, a flash of ice cold light shoots towards the dark elf. Fortunately it misses. The wizard realizes a demon or devil is trapped in there. He continues downwards on the staircase, back to the other drow.

The marauders attack the scout, who lashes out with her spiked chain, killing one of the beasts. Alvra is attacked as well, and puts his sword to good use. Lilith clubs a marauder to death, when she feels slithery tentacles on her head. They try to get a hold, but can’t get a grip. The cleric tastes the mind flayer’s frustration.

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Phaedra and Alvra notice what is happening to their sister. Another marauder bites the dust, killed by Phaedra, and returns to the ethereal planes. Alvra charges the mind flayer and scores a hit with his sword. A filthy, purple substance oozes from the illithid’s body and a yell resounds in their heads. Again and again the drow slashes at the humanoid, aided by Lilith. The mind flayer focuses all his mental energy in a mind blast. The cleric is not affected, but Alvra is stunned. The last marauder also attacks Lilith, but only manages to add another scratch to her armor. Phaedra tries to advance on the illithid, but her brother stands in her way. Her spiked chain kills the last yapping muzzle. With a mighty swing of her flail, the enraged cleric kills the mind flayer.

Eight pearls are embedded in the statue, and when Phaedra pries them out, the statue becomes dull. There is no gem though. After a while, Alvra has recovered enough from the psionic blast to search the mind flayer’s repulsing corpse. He finds some gems, but not the right one either.

There are more rooms upstairs: a living room, a room with an ice creature and one with strange strands of webs. Perhaps the item we seek is there.

The drow resume their journey to the top of the tower.

Really? A mindflayer?

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The Xaniqos pick up their weapons and are escorted from the premises, when Alvra asks

Mistress, are we in a hurry to return to our House? An acquaintance of Taldinyon has asked me to pick up a couple of items at the tower of Uliordell – a mindflayer – while we’re in the neighborhood.

Not now, Alvra. The matter at hand is of the gravest importance, we need to get back to the Matron Mother immediately!

Back at the mansion, the two sisters report to Lady Thandysha. She listens intently to what Lilith has to say, nods, and then turns to Phaedra.

House Vae has been in contact, and has assured me they had nothing to do with the slave trade of the Shar’ans.

Ah, so the venerable Flesh peddler acted on his own?

Yes. I was on the verge of breaking up our relationship with House Vae, but now… Your sleeping around has turned out right for once. Hmm, you might be useful after all. Our House could profit from this slave trade.
You are all free to do as you want until the Council meets.

The Matron Mother seems content.

While the cleric visits the chapel to pray to Lolth, and Phaedra takes care of some business, the wizard sets out in search of his brother. After checking out the fighter’s room, the arena and dining room, he finds him at the bathhouse, where Alvra is washing away the bugbear stench.

Mindflayer UliOrdel

Tell me, brother. How did you come by this assignment? A mindflayer? In what location can we find him?

I don’t know which tower exactly. I was advised to ask YOU for advice, Jharrath.

When Alvra suggests the four of them ought to be able to do the job, the wizard replies:

Brute force alone is not enough. You can interrupt the mindflayer’s casting, but only by doing a lot of damage, so his concentration is broken. And his force of will is enormous. Psionics are not bound to any House, they are independent. Let me think on this a little while longer.

Later on, Lilith approaches her brothers. Alvra is not at liberty to reveal the name of his client, but he does tell her that they will be looking for a special kind of gem. Asked for battle tactics, he advises don’t talk, just fight physically. The wizard knows where the illithid has its residence, and has a plan for entering the tower. But first he has to copy a special scroll to his spell book: pass wall. Lilith allows it, and a day later, they set out on the quest.