The Hidden Dell

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The well-trodden path leads towards the entrance of the cave. It looms ahead, dark and forbidding. The cleric sends forth another eye, directing it into the darkness. When it comes back, it relays the images of a deserted space, with objects piled near the opening.

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The horses have been secured to metal poles outside the cave. To enter, the siblings have to pass them or lure them away. Lilith prepares an enchantment spell, but while they softly debate over the best course of action, the dire beasts get more agitated. The breeze must have carried their smell towards them. They can’t wait any longer. Phaedra moves stealthily closer and stays on the left side of the path, while the wizard chooses the other side, but the horses’ red eyes follow her. Lilith buffs the fighter with spells. His muscles pop up.

One of the horses finally manages to break free and canters straight towards the scout. The cleric immediately releases her spell, but the horse’s willpower is too strong; it doesn’t heed her suggestion. Jharrath summons a large earth elemental and places it right in the path of the charging beast. The elemental hits the horse twice on the head. The dire horse counterattacks and rears up on its hind legs, thrashing the summoned monster, its red eyes flashing. It must have fiendish blood.

Then the second horse breaks its tether and lashes out with its hoof, striking the wizard in the shoulder. Alvra, muscles bulging, draws his sword and slashes at the horse, but he doesn’t do much damage. The skin is too thick. Jharrath uses his boots and moves backwards, where he casts mirror image on himself. Four more wizards appear out of thin air.

Lilith looses a bolt, but it misses its target. Discarding her useless crossbow, she takes out her flail, activates its special ability and charges the horse. She cries out,

Lolth, give me the strength to slay this beast!

but the fiendish horse is not bothered by the extra fire damage. The wizard fires his wand of magic missiles and then summons five small elementals, while Alvra strikes again. This time he focuses and with a mighty swing of his sword, he hurts the fiend good. The small elementals are no match for the black horse. It seems to like fighting, and is trained to kill. The steed bites and kicks, sending two elementals back to their native plane. Lilith activates her rod of grievous wounds, and gets kicked by a massive hoof as reward. With a cry of rage, she focuses her divine power and projects a blast of light from her open palm into the steed’s head. The horse is trembling, exhausted and severely wounded. Then Alvra steps in and with another massive attack beats it to pulp.

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Meanwhile the battle between the first horse and the large earth elemental rages back and forth. The other elementals join the fight, their master following behind. The fighter hurls a javelin towards the horse, followed by a frost breath attack by Lilith. But like the fire, the cold seems to do little to no damage. Jharrath summons a medium sized elemental, that immediately attacks. Alvra grabs his javelin and takes up position next to his sister.Together they attack again, both flanking the dire horse. Alvra hacks and slashes, and finally manages to slay the fiend.

The siblings slowly stand up, quiet returning to the battle field. Lilith heals both herself and her fighter brother, and hands him an extra healing potion. They are bruised and bleeding. Jharrath walks towards the cave: their younger sister seems missing…

Three drow against two horses. Phaedra looks back at her siblings. They seem to be handling the situation well, so she continues towards the cave. She creeps closer and closer, then hides and listens carefully. Taking a quick peek inside, she sees a fairly wide natural cave, artificially widened. She spots the crates, mentioned earlier by the prying eye. The remains of a campfire are cold and abandoned. The scout warily enters the cave. She moves steadily deeper, searching for traps, but finds nothing. The barrels contain food and trading goods from several merchant houses. A prison is built into the wall, the bars in excellent condition, complete with chains and a pit. It is empty. Phaedra checks out the back of the cave. Two bunk beds, a table, chairs and a hatch in the ground. She crouches down.

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… the others walk inside. Alvra examines the empty holding cell; its neck clamps silent witnesses of the people who have been kept there. Searching for her sister, Lilith notices signs, which have been carved in the hatch.

Wait for me, I’ll be back.

She recognizes Phaedra’s signature. While her brother searches for clues near the bunks, she walks back towards the entrance to check out the crates. Like Phaedra discovered earlier, she finds food, silk, probably stolen. The drow decide to sit down and eat while waiting. Lilith takes her dinner over towards the hatch -her flail within reach- and readies for action, while Alvra positions himself on the other side, taking a defensive stance.

Suddenly the hatch opens and Phaedra’s head pops up. In sign language, the cleric asks her sister what she’s found out. The scouts looks businesslike.

I’ve got news!

Attacked by Mushrooms and More

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The interior of the cave is lit by a soft glow. There are various types of minerals, plants, roots, small and large fungi; all signs that they are on the right track. They cautiously continue along the path, when suddenly the violet fungi start to move. They sway from side to side and attack the drow with their roots.

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Jharrath takes a step back and casts mage armor on himself. Four tentacles try to get a hold on Phaedra, but she takes out her spiked chain and hits one of the creatures square in the cap. Another is sliced to pieces by the fighter, while a third is beaten up by the cleric’s flail. Magic missiles kill yet another, and soon all that is left is pulp, especially near Alvra. He glares at the leftover green mushrooms, but those don’t seem hostile.

Swiping the residue off their weapons, the drow continue into a larger section of the mine. There are tracks in the dust, and Phaedra signs to her siblings that there are more violet fungi ahead. A sour, reptilian scent is heavy on the air. Wooden beams support the space. On the left, the way forward is blocked by rubble and more fungi, so the scouts turns around and walks to the other side. The tunnel is lower there, and looks more rickety. Bones are strewn across the floor – big bones, huge bones. It seems like they have found the remains of Vaterian, the dragon

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When Phaedra chances a quick glance around the corner, she sees an albino drow with red eyes. It seems like he has been watching them for a while. It is one of the szarkai – age old enemies of the drow – wearing a large bastard sword. He looks like a fighter, and soon proves to be one too. With a swipe of his sword, he scores a hit on the female scout. Lilith sees what happens and counterattacks. Focusing Lolth’s divine power, she projects a blast of light from her open palm, which slams straight into the white drow. He screams with pain. The wizard follows up with magic missiles, while Phaedra tumbles back and lashes out with her chain. Heavily wounded, the szarkai pulls back into the shadows of the cave and disappears from sight.

Alvra, who is following the blood trail, is hit by two cross bolts. Ignoring his wounds for the moment, he spots the injured white drow and charges, but the attack ricochets off the bastard sword. His sister doesn’t miss though, and the spiked chain kills the creature.

Be careful, somebody shot at me!

Alerted by her brother’s warning, Phaedra whirls around and sees two more white drow with heavy crossbows. They are taking cover behind two mushrooms. She warns the others and then advances on the crossbow snipers, but overreaches with her spiked chain and lands in the middle. The szarkai drop the crossbows, grab their swords and swing at Phaedra. Fortunately, they miss. Jharrath’s Kellgore’s firebolt slams into one of the albinos with ravaging force, giving the scout the opportunity to use her ability to appear in a safer spot.

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The white ones, robbed of their target, scream. Lilith launches a bolt of cold darkness from her hands, but to no effect. When she tries to plant the suggestion to attack one another in their minds, they won’t obey. The fight rages on by missiles, swords, spells and chain. Using his house brooch, Alvra increases his strength and kills one of the szarkai with a mighty blow. Two earth elementals, summoned by Jharrath, finally manage to kill the third.

The fight has taken a heavy toll on two of the Xaniqos siblings. Their wounds bleed with a yellowish glow and they don’t feel well at all. Both Alvra and Phaedra are slowly losing their eyesight due to the very potent poison, and the fighter loses a lot of strength as well. He drinks an anti-toxin. The cleric calls upon her deity and manages to return some of Alvra’s strength and remove his blindness.

Apart from the bastard swords and heavy crossbows, the albinos were wearing good magical armor and shields. Alvra also finds a small flask with a yellowish substance in it. Lilith – adept in the use of poisons – takes the bottle from him and applies the substance to her flail. After consulting with her brother, she smears the darklight brew also on one side of Alvra’s sword. Then she carefully tucks the flask away.

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.

With its feet in the air

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Alvra guides his lizard over to the ladder and investigates the mechanism. It seems to move up and down, not horizontal, but there’s one lying next to it. The Fighter directs the wooden structure to the other side of the Abyss, creating a bridge for his siblings. With the help of Phaedra’s grapple hook and rope, they make a safety line to get down the slope and soon all four Drow are reunited on the east side. Lilith checks out the bugbear corpses and finds very powerful bows, as well as beautiful morningstars and chainshirts. She gives the collection to Alvra to carry them home.

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Yes, my sketching abilities are superb. What? Oh, let’s call them unique then 😉

When the sisters climb down the ladder, they are being shot at. Phaedra gets hit and tumbles down the ladder – right on top of the ettercap’s fat belly. The creature is as dead as a doornail, lying with its feet in the air on a sort of platform. When the Scout surveys her surroundings, she spots the archers – two bugbears – standing on the wooden structure, which is about ten feet wide. She takes out her spiked chain and readies.

Jharrath fires his wand of magic missiles at one of the bears, and the beast returns the favor with an arrow. Taken aback, the Wizard drops the wand, which falls down the ladder and lands on the platform next to Phaedra. He scolds the bugbear with every Drow curse he can think of and gets back up to cast Mage Armor on himself. Lilith climbs as far down as she can, while Alvra steers his mount down the west side of the abyss. Then the air around Phaedra shimmers, and five more Drow appear next to her, looking very similar to the Scout, right down to the spiked chain.

Of course the bugbear can’t withstand such an excellent challenge. It drops its bow and charges full ahead with its longsword. One image fades out of existence. The other beast joins in and smashes another mirror image to pieces with its morningstar, then another. Alvra hurls a javelin at the creature but misses, and his second attack barely misses his Scout sister. He orders his lizard to attack, but it doesn’t do any damage. The Scout shows him how it’s done and kills one of the bugbears.

Just when Lilith steps onto the wooden structure, the Wizard attempts to descend in double speed. He fails to hold on to the ladder and drops down. The Cleric steps aside just in time. Now both her brother and his wand are lying at her feet. She activates her flail and… goes for the remaining bug bear. Her flail’s special ability sets the beast on fire. Phaedra finishes it off with a mighty swing of her weapon. 

The platform is empty for now. Phaedra hands Alvra the excellent looking longsword of the bugbear, while Jharrath picks up his wand. The Cleric uses her healing powers on both Drow brothers. She still might need them.

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Deeper Down

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Phaedra loads her crossbow and walks down the riffle, while the spells casters stay atop. The aranea is nowhere to be seen. The monstrous spider on the right has landed in the caustic liquid and is thrashing about. It attacks in a frenzy. Though the claws are almost eaten away by the acid, its jaws close around Alvra in a bite attack. The Fighter immediately drives back his lizard and drinks a healing potion.

Suddenly a fire ball erupts near the still hanging monster, killing both spiders in one take. Jharrath aimed his spell well. The remaining ettercap stares and stares, unable to believe this turn of events. Then it spits a web over the lizard and runs off. Lilith casts a spell of blindness on the creature to prevent it from sounding the alarm. She seems to succeed, since the ettercap stops running. Alvra’s mount bites through the webbings, free once more. Phaedra climbs the walls, while Jharrath dismisses the acid caustic mire. Then the ettercap too suddenly disappears from view. The Scout goes after to investigate.

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At her feet a slope of smooth damp stone ends in an abyss, twenty feet away. There’s still no sign of the ettercap. On the other side of the abyss is a wooden palisade, cluttered with bales and barrels – a watchtower hovering over it. The draw bridge is hanging useless on the other side, the pulley unreachable. Phaedra signals her sister to come closer. The slope makes it impossible for them to cross the black abyss, so the Cleric orders Alvra to go to the other side over the walls and ceiling. Halfway the Fighter gets stuck in another concealed web and even his considerable strength isn’t enough to pull free.

The Scout spots the missing aranea on the other side of the fissure, gesturing in a strange way. She shouts a warning to her brother, who is a sitting duck on his immobilized mount. Not a moment later Alvra is hit by three magic missiles; his lizard by an arrow. The result of another attack by a bugbear, which is hiding behind the crates. Jharrath sends a mephit over to the other side, while the Cleric casts dancing lights to reveal two more archers.

Though Phaedra tries to wound the aranea, the beast hurls a ball of acid at the poor trapped lizard. In an attempt to break free, Alvra surrounds himself with darkness and orders his steed to bite through the web, but to no avail. His sword has more success and he slowly advances again.

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Meanwhile the fight rages on. A fierce breath attack by the mephit damages the bugbears, while Lilith’s ray of slashing darkness hurts it even more. Phaedra takes a stone from her backpack and throws it at the feet of the aranea. A sound like thunder echoes through the cave. Then two earth elementals materialize near the bugbears, and pummel one to death. When the salt mephit gets hit, it flies upwards and surprises the aranea with glitter dust. The spider creature is momentarily blinded. The Wizard’s fire bolt ends its life, while Lilith uses a darkfire spell to kill another bugbear.

When Alvra dispells his darkness, he is confronted with a hovering mephit. He instantly attacks, aided by his lizard, but the mount misses and is barely to hold on to the wall.

You idiot, that’s MY creature!

the wizard yells at his brother. Fuming, he dismisses it, while his earth elementals kill the last bugbear.

Vermin Hunt

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In the morning they are greeted by weaponmaster Taldinyon, who is waiting for them in the chapel of Lolth. He has new orders from the Matron Mother of House Xaniqos. Lady Thandysha needs a lot more slaves and has given directions to a goblin tribe that is living further away. This tribe is better organized than the group they captured the day before, and they are to bring them in alive and in reasonable good health. There are also problems with the rothé herds on an island, which is pestered by a vermin infestation and they have to swipe the island clean of everything. The island rothé are herded by thirty goblins and two drow guards. There is also a small herd on the mainland. Both assignments have to be finished within two days.

Taldinyon hands Lilith eight bluish bottles and a pouch with money for the trip. She gives her sister and brothers each two light healing potions, so they have a better chance to stay alive and be of use. The cleric decides to take on the vermin assignment first.

This time the four Xaniqos drow take a left turn after the Great Gates, where there is a lot more traffic, until they arrive at a big lake. They find a boat, staffed by a drow and four goblins. The boat master, recognizing their Xaniqos badge, is willing to take them to the other side. He tells them that the north and west of the island is infested by medium sized cockroaches, six feet long. They are dangerous, fast, tough, and have tremor sense. Some can even fly. They like to make their lairs in damp warm places. Great!

The drow guards on the island lead them to the three entrances of the caverns, which are ten to twenty feet wide. Phaedra listens and hears scuffling feet at the second entrance, water in the third opening. When she peeks into the middle one, she can see a tunnel leading straight onward, decorated with many stalactites. They send one of the goblins into the cave, telling him to run and then quickly come back. After a bit of encouragement, he actually walks in and returns with another goblin! Frightened he tells them there is a dead cockroach inside.

The upper entrance is next. Now they send both goblins into the tunnel… but only one comes back out, chased by a very fast cockroach. It releases an awful stench but none of the drow are affected. The beast runs towards Alvra and tries to pierce his armor. Lilith attacks the huge insect and damages it with her flail, after which the beast transfers his attention. To her. Stepping back she casts faerie fire to distract it. The scout smashes her spike chain, while – protected by his mage armor spell – Jharrath casts flare. This dazzles the beast and the drow fighter immediately grabs this opportunity to finish it off. ‘Stupid bug!’

They decide to check on the third opening next. The ground slopes down towards a twenty feet wide space; in the middle they see two bodies lying. One is still moving. Not because it is still alive, but because of wriggling giant maggots underneath. Next to the wall there is a basin of water. The wizard pulls the body away and Lilith orders the goblins to spear the maggots. Suddenly one of the goblins is dragged upwards by tentacles, up to something that can be best subscribed as a floating towel: a magical darkmantle! After casting faerie fire on it, Phaedra even spots a second one.

With a fighting combination of crossbow bolts, a javelin and a hail of stones the drow manage to kill one and wound the other. Suddenly the surviving creature casts a globe of darkness. Damn! Everyone takes their melee weapons and stand ready. A very high sonar echoes through the cave, and immediately after the scout is attacked by the darkmantle. Fortunately she manages to shrug it off. The beast drops to the ground and after several misses, the cleric hits something, fighting blind. For long breathless moments nobody moves, then the drow and goblins slowly back out of the cave. When the darkness dissipates, they discover two dead darkmantles. One cave cleaned out.

Phaedra checks out the middle cave and finds a dead cockroach (just like the goblin said),  two dead goblins, crude weaponry and a small satchel with a few coins. Cave number two is also safe. Which leads them to the cave where the big bug came from. A big bug coming out of a big cave. Interesting possibilities…

Their anticipation proves correct: the tunnel forks into two separate, smaller passages. Soon clicking sounds resound against the walls and another cockroach scuttles closer. Jharrath casts dancing light on the insect and then releases Kelgores fire bolt, which hits the cockroach, destroying one of the beast’s mandibles. It immediately attacks the scout who happens to be in front and pierces her armor. Lilith calls upon the Spider Queen to give her strength and suddenly her empowered flail is dripping blood. She kills the cockroach with one hit, but soon another insect sibling decides to check out what the fuzz is all about.

Meanwhile another bug is attacking the rear of the group, but fortunately Alvra is alert and manages to damage it badly, even killing it in the process. The others are not as fortunate and miss attack after attack. They are very annoyed with themselves and drink healing potions to recover from their wounds. These cockroaches are as tough as their chitin armor! The drow fighter investigates the other corridor and finds himself at a crossroad. After a hit by Phaedra, the insect decides to retreat and finds itself face to face with Alvra, who doesn’t hesitate. Another bug down.

The drow regroup and move forward, only to reach another fork in the tunnel. Something is moving around in the left tunnel. As if the new walking cockroach is not enough, there is a second one there, flying! A bunch of bolts and javelin buzz through the air, but all miss, while the roaches do not. This is truly pathetic. The wizard suddenly summons an earth elemental, which powerfully attacks one of the bugs. Phaedra is so pissed about this late initiative that she crushes a cockroach in total fury. After more bumps and misses, Lilith finally shoots the last one. Deadly silence is the result.

They take care of their wounds as well as possible, during which the scout tells her wizard brother never to hold back a spell like that in the future. Lilith fills a couple of empty potion bottles with cockroach puss to make poison with. When they walk back into the ‘open’ air – if there is such a thing in the Underdark – the guards take further care of them. The youngest sister advices the guards to regularly check the caves, to prevent new vermin to nestle. Then the cleric leads them back to the city, wounded and filthy. Everyone moves out of the way for the party. It was a dirty job and a dirty retreat.

Recapturing Slaves

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Back at the mansion, Solaufein is already waiting for the young drow. He immediately sends them back out for the next assignment: finding a group of 40 or 50 goblin slaves that escaped from the previous House owners. They have been located by the scouts of house Xaniqos somewhere not far outside the city.

To leave Erelhei-Cinlu, they have to pass through the ghettos to make it to the Great Gates. On either side are statues of a male and female drow, with an image of Lolth above. Drow can travel into the city for free, non-drow have to pay their way in.

On the other side of the gates, there is a big cavern, with a small lake to the left. Lilith orders her younger sister to find the band of goblins. They march to the right for a while, where Phaedra finds a bloodstained piece of cloth. Seems they are on the right track. She soon discovers a cave and moves in stealthily. There is only one entrance and no guard. The scout sneaks closer still and then hears voices argue about the leadership of the group. She sees one taller – rather dumb looking – goblin and a group of smaller ones. Only a few of them are armed with crude weapons. Then Phaedra is discovered. The other drow quickly move in and are met by scared goblins, little ones in front.

Alvra asks Lilith if he is allowed to take action, which the cleric allows. He twirls his two-bladed sword and thus manages to intimidate the leader, who drops his spears and flees to the back. From there he tries to negotiate with the fighter. Alvra grants him his life and tells everyone to drop their ‘weapons’. In reply the leader hurls a javelin at the drow, and hits. ‘That’s it, attack the worms!’ Lilith growls en walks menacingly forward. Some retreat.

The wizard hurls fire at the leader and succeeds in hurting him. After a charge of Alvra, there is a headless corps decorating the cave. The others quickly surrender. Meanwhile Phaedra enters the cavern to check the rearguard, where she is attacked by a goblin who was defending the females and young. He ends up with a spiked chain in his skull. Phaedra then leads thirteen goblins from the cave.

They walk back to Erelhei-Cinlu in formation, the remaining thirty new slaves in tow. Upon the arrival at House Xaniqos, captain of the guard Solaufein takes over the goblins and leads them to the slave quarters under the mansion. The four drow proceed to the central hall to report to the Matron Mother and walk into a mass praying. Irritated by the low tasks they have received so far, Lilith remains erect at the entrance of the room. Perhaps not such a bright idea.

Indignant, the Matron Mother allows her eldest daughter to punish the disobedient cleric and Quarra makes the whole group go down on their knees to pray… long! After that they are dismissed without even a comment on the completed task. Lilith praises Alvra for his excellent fighting and heals him as a reward. Though a bit grudgingly. All four then go to their rooms to pray and prepare for the next day. Seems Lolth was satisfied after all, since all feel better prepared for the upcoming events.