Prying Eyes

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While Lilith patches up her wizard brother, Phaedra and Alvra go over the remains of their defeated enemies. They were very well equipped with magic weapons and armor, amulets, wands and potions. When Lilith searches the archer, she finds an obsidian bat form among the other equipment. The cleric scrutinizes the statue, and then asks Jharrath if it could be the sought after key to the portal. The wizard studies the object in the light of the dawn and confirms her belief: this is an activating stone.

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The cleric applies more healing to Alvra, while keeping an eye on the surroundings. The fighter is leaning against a wall. Someone is watching us, he signs. Lilith nods. At that moment, Phaedra return from patrolling the neighborhood. A flock of ravens is their constant company up above. I know, Lilith signals, but we can’t go back, we still need to find Dark Fate. Alvra, find us a defensible spot. Do it, quickly!

They travel on, until the fighter finds a shallow basin with a low wall at the back and bushes in the middle. Lilith creates a number of semi-tangible, visible magical orbs and sends them forth. These Prying Eyes have the specific instructions to scout for danger. The cleric leans back against the rim of the basin, as does Alvra, and tries to get some rest. Their brother finds cover under a bush. Phaedra hides nearby and keeps watch.

The day passes slowly, until the Prying Eyes wake their mistress and alert her to advancing danger: six drow are at 120 feet and closing in. Lilith sits up and signals to her siblings. They are surrounding us! Alvra gives his sister a hand, and with his help, she manages to climb out of the pit. The Eyes inform her that the enemies have advanced to sixty feet from where they were resting.

The cleric starts chanting and creates a shimmering, magical field around her companions, that enables them to avert attacks easier. She then casts a spell on Alvra, that makes his muscles bulge, and dresses herself in an magical armor of darkness. An anti-toxin potion should also help counter any sleeping spell darts. Jharrath drinks one as well. Lilith warns the others: through her Prying Eyes she can see that that five of the six enemy drow just became invisible. Among them is the cleric who attacked them yesterday. And she doesn’t seem to be the only cleric this time!

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Alvra peeks over the edge, ready to jump into action. Drinking a potion that blurs her outline, Lilith takes cover behind a big rock, with her wizard brother near. Moments later he summons a salt mephit. Glitter dust swirls through the air.

Silently, Phaedra steps away, taking position on the other side of the rim’s top while hiding in invisibility. Then she hears footsteps next to her. She keeps very quiet and from the corner of her eye she sees an archer who takes aim at the mephit. The warrior is in full armor and dressed in black. Another battle is about to begin.

The Upper World

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With ‘Elliya Lolthu’ Lilith ends her reverie. They all feel better after resting a couple of hours, and the cleric is able to restore her brother’s strength. Jharrath identifies the spiked chain they found earlier as the ‘Living Chain’, a magic weapon that enhances the user’s ability to trip an opponent and hands it back to Phaedra. She stows it away for later use. After examining the portal, the wizard concludes that there’s no turning back at this point. The gateway is magically locked, and they need a specific object to unlock it. Over the portal is an insignia of a bat, could this be the domain of House Shi’quos? The only way to find out is to move forward.

The drow once again pass the fake wall, keeping an eye out for the aranea’s, but the room stays quiet. Another passage takes them into a corridor, which gradually slopes upward. As usual, Phaedra scouts ahead. Drafts are picking up and the temperature is dropping. After about an hour, they arrive at another wall. Phaedra concentrates and focuses her will in the firm believe that this wall is also an illusion. Without hesitation, she steps through…

…into a world that is alien to her. Her drow eyes are not used to the bright light -though it is only night- and she sees trees and ferns, insects and birds, the sky! She has never seen the likes in her whole life. Soon the others follow. They have arrived in a large coniferous forest. Mountains loom overhead and a light fog obscures their whereabouts. The Xaniqos siblings have reached the Upper World!

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It is cold, it’s bleak and damp. Everything seems to be constantly moving, and it is so open. The drow, used to the confinements of the Underdark, feel very exposed. Alvra turns and searches for landmarks. The portal is situated in a little nook of the mountain wall. He carves two circles in the bark of a pine that is standing in front of the portal, and Jharrath marks the cliff with an invisible mark. This way they can always recognize the entrance to their own world. With a quick step back through the portal the cleric makes sure their way to the Underdark is not blocked.

Three pairs of deep footprints can be seen in the marshy ground. Whoever they are following must be heavily armored. Lilith speaks in a hushed voice,

These tracks are the only clue we have and we can’t go back. Sister, lead on and let’s hurry!

The Xaniqos set out into the forest, with Phaedra tracking ahead. All are on high alert. The silence of the Underdark is only a memory. There are lots of unfamiliar sounds; crows shriek, insects buzz and the wind howls through the trees. Silently they pass through the trees, silent as ghosts.

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Suddenly all sounds stop. The scout freezes, trees surrounding her on all sides. In the eerie atmosphere, a different kind of howling arises. Wolves! She runs full back full speed to warn the others, while the howling comes ever closer. Lilith casts a mass shield of faith and together they wait, taking cover behind the trees. The wizard summons two earth elementals, just in case. Then a huge antlered dire elk comes crashing through the undergrowth. Hunted by a pack of wolves, it tramples over one of the elementals, destroying it in the process. With a mighty bound, it leaps clear of the mess and runs on. The dire wolves, large, skinny and very hungry, turn towards the new and perhaps easier prey. But they might be mistaken…

The pack attacks, biting and tripping, while the Xaniqos fight back with sword, flail, spiked chain and spells. A large elemental, summoned by Jharrath, joins their defenses. Phaedra drives her opponent mad by repeatedly teleporting out of harms way. Teeth and weapons draw blood. When two dire wolves go down, the silhouette of huge new wolf appears on the edge of the fighting scene. It throws back its head and howls, command in its voice. The others immediately heed the alpha’s call and tactically retreat, though they never stray far from the drow.

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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…

Anybys Velifane

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The next day, the siblings arrive at the Isle of Scribes after a two hours walk south. The area is swarming with Shi’quos guards, and Lilith checks the parchment. It is safely tucked away, next to the 500 platinum pieces she has the freedom to offer to Anybys Velifane. Matron Mother Thandysha still seemed troubled by the prophecy this morning.

Multiple wizard towers shimmer with a metal sheen. The tower of the archmage is not the highest among them, but it is the broadest – very elegant in obsidian stone and well over hundred feet tall. When they approach the entrance, the captain of the guard halts them. When asked for admittance, Rhuadin is detaining their access at first, but prodded by the cleric’s authoritarian air, he soon returns with the message

The Archmage will see you now. Leave your weapons with me, they’ll be safe.

A flamboyant drow leads them up a winding staircase towards the second floor. They are welcomed by a very handsome though haughty lady, dressed in a silk robe. She seems to be Thandysha’s age. Lilith introduces herself and explains the reason for their visit, after which she hands over the scroll. Archmage Velifane is intrigued and is about to enter her study, when she looks at Jharrath.

I could use an assistant.

Without hesitation, the Xaniqos wizard replies

My name is Jharrath and I’m an aspiring wizard with many potentials. I’m honored to be of service!

Together they disappear, while the others sit down for refreshments.

Anybys

art by Carrie Best @ DeviantArt

The archmage’s study is an alchemist dream. Jharrath looks around in wonder and awe, while Velifane carefully unfolds the scroll. She gently touches it and then examines her fingertip with special spectacles.

Hmm darklight ore, highly unusual these days, how remarkable. And dangerous!

The archmage again bows over the parchment and chants a deviation spell. On her instructions, Jharrath carries several items – including a mirror – to a big table. The parchment is carefully spread out in the middle. Anybys focuses and casts a spell, unknown to the Xaniqos drow. Jharrath suddenly hears a male voice

You seeketh, and it wants to be found
It lies in a tomb deep underground
Ignorant guards of legs eight
Shield the world from darker fate

though the mirror image stays blank. Frustrated she mumbles I think we need to alert the Council.

An hour has passed, when they reappear in the reception room. In a distracted voice, the archmage recites:

Six hundred years ago, a war raged between drow. The war was triggered by Dark Fate, a rod infused with the intense hatred of a drider. Dark Fate found its way into the hands of drow cleric Alantria. It fed her hatred for drow, which ultimately resulted in a huge war. Alantria was defeated, but all was razed to the ground. Her body and the weapon have never been found. The rod has turned into a sentient being, with a mind of its own. If it falls in the hands of the wrong people, it could mean our doom! The discovery of this scroll is quite important, a matter of great urgency. Tell your Matron Mother that I’ll gather the Council within a tenday!

Jharrath offers his help for future necessities, which archmage Velifane accepts.

For a man, you were actually quite useful.

Lost in thought, she dismisses the siblings and adds a few punctuation corrections to the scroll. Now it reads:

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Ambush

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Alvra carries the strongbox back down to the corridor, and does the same with his dead mount’s saddle and bridle. Phaedra points out it would be suspicious if a dead riding lizard was found in this cave. Combined with the missing Cloak of the Consort, it might lead straight to House Xaniqos. They decide to burn it all: the crates, bedding, araneas and the riding lizard. An incendiary slime spell in combination with a fire ball does the trick. An enormous explosion rocks the stone, and when the Wizard climbs back up to check out the area, all is scorched black. A mass of organic and inorganic stuff remains, reasonably unrecognizable. Satisfied, the Drow follow the corridor, the younger sister scouting ahead. She finds herself in a cave with ladders and ropes, leading up to a platform with a small pool of pure drink water. This might come in handy for future travels. They fill up their water bottles. Since it is a dead end, they retrace their steps and take the long and arduous route back. A lot of climbing and hoisting needs to be done and it takes them at least two hours to reach the spider carcasses again.

At the bottom of the slope that leads down from the cave entrance, the scene is unaltered. Or is it? When Lilith takes a closer look, she sees that one of the hobgoblin bodies has been turned over: someone has been here. Fresh bear tracks lead back the way they came from, but all seems quiet for now. After about an hour the siblings come upon a crossroads. The bear imprints lead to the right, but their city is straight on. The Cleric sees no point in following the tracks any further and takes the road towards Erelhei-Cinlu. To their right and left are paths filled with stalagmites, while high cliffs frame the way forward. Then the Scout spots a male Drow standing on a small rock at the side of the road. He’s seems to be nonchalantly waiting for them, his hands at a safe distance from his expensive looking rapier and dagger. The male is wearing a costly outfit and his whole demeanor radiates supreme confidence.

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Greetings, I want you to lay down your weapons and hand over the cloak that you stole.

The adventurers immediately stand still, assessing the situation.

Please lay down your weapons, I will not ask again.

When Lilith asks for his name, he responds with

My name is Jhael’min Shi’quos.

Of course that does ring a bell. House Shi’quos, the Fourth house of Erelhei-Cinlu. And member of the House of the captive Drow whose throat Phaedra slit. The Scout, in a high state of alertness, hears a soft snort to the right. They might have caught up with the owners of the bear tracks. The male Drow, seeing the family crest on Lilith piwafwi, exclaims:

You are of House Xaniqos? That cloak belongs to our family!

Such a devious Matron Mother, the Cleric muses, she indeed never said anything about our House owning it or being entitled to it! Lilith keeps on talking, since the Drow seems genuine in wanting to let them pass, and throws her diplomacy skills in the game.

We know we took something that most likely doesn’t belong to us, but you must understand that we can not go back to our Matron Mother without it.

I’m sorry you feel that way,

Jhael’min says, whereupon both the Wizard and the Cleric feel the impact of a crossbow bolt. Slowly the world fades…

And they keep on coming

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The end of the corridor opens into a chamber, that contains eight straw beds, a wooden table, many wooden crates and a fire pit. Smoke is billowing around the room. As an arrow buzzes towards her, Phaedra realizes that it also holds a bugbear, even two. The second one shoots Lilith square in the chest. She counters with a spell, suggesting that the beast attack its mate. The bugbear doesn’t know what is happening, but obediently shoots its comrade in the face. And it keeps attacking until it drops dead, aided by an earth elemental that the Wizard sent forward. Then the bugbear regains its senses.

Phaedra slowly advanced on the first bugbear and takes cover behind the table. Meanwhile her sister is under attack by a third creature, that was hiding around the corner. The Scout turns and lashes out, striking hard with her spiked chain. The enraged Cleric smashes her flail straight into the bugbear’s face. Satisfied, Phaedra walks back towards her initial attacker, which is already under attack by the earth elemental and Jharrath’s missiles. Their brother has set his lizard to guard the entrance and mingles in the fight. Unfortunately – drained of his strength – he’s too weak to do any real harm, so it’s up to the Scout to kill another opponent in the end. 

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They find all kinds of food and dried insects in the crates. These bugbears are very well stocked, equipped and trained! The room seems like a nice place to rest for a while. Phaedra takes the first watch and is relieved by Alvra after a couple of hours. His fatigue is gone, but he is not well yet. When the Cleric wakes up, she calls upon the Spider Queen to restore Alvra’s strength. Almost back to his old self, he gulps down an anti-toxin potion.

Further down the Scout sees solid ground. Alvra climbs back up to get the grappling hook and rope, and ties them to the platform. Tired of the delay, Lilith ties the rope around her waist and tells the Fighter to lower her down to the floor. A decision she regrets when she hears scuttling behind a thus far concealed web in the right corner. Then a huge hunting spider appears from the left, trying to break his fast with the Cleric.

Pull me up!

she hollers, but the spider’s fangs sink into her body. Her siblings quickly haul her back to safety. By now two eight-legged monsters are drooling in anticipation down below.

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Back onto the platform, Lilith drinks a potion that neutralizes poison, while the Wizard shoots a Kellgore’s firebolt at the welcoming committee. Phaedra joins in with crossbow bolts. One of the hunting spiders launches a web at Jharrath. As the Scouts cuts him loose, she hisses

Wizard, send your minions down there!

He grabs his candle and summons earth elementals to attack the spiders. The others help with crossbow, javelin and spells. A fireball kills the first spider, and Alvra steers his lizard halfway down to check out the retreating other. The spider aims webbings at the pair, and both get stuck in the sticky threads. Then a hissing, hurtling ribbon of pure darkness flies from Lilith’s hands and the monster rolls onto its back.