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!

Circling the Mountain

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Though the Xaniqos have escaped the deadly trap this time, there are still possibly ten to twelve hostile drow on the loose. There is no trace of the fiendish ravens; strategically, the siblings have a good and defensible position, Alvra says. Tired and wary, they decide to spend the night in the pit and wake up feeling slightly better.

Lilith sends out one of her prying eyes to assess their situation. The orb returns to convey images of hills and meadows to the cleric, a landscape where nothing moves except small wildlife. There is no visible threat, there are no other drow. With this knowledge, they set out and head back towards the old watchtower area. The smell of burned flesh still permeates the air from the silo. Phaedra wearily enters the scorched area, and finds the battle scene undisturbed. Many footprints are still visible in the sand, the area is scorched and blood permeates the soil.

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Clear tracks lead towards the mountains, deeply imprinted by the weight of heavy armor. They seem to be in a hurry! Another prying eye sets out to scout the area. The drow follow the trail for many hours, but Phaedra’s instinct and scouting skills tell her that they are only two miles as the crow flies from the portal through which they entered the Upper World. The landscape is becoming more and more overgrown with bushes and trees, the ground gets stony. When her sister loses the track, Lilith calls back the prying orb. In their vicinity are many small furry animals, but no houses or settlements; nothing is threatening. One more orb sets out with the specific instructions to search for caves and people, and its search proves successful. There’s a dark space up ahead that could be the entrance they are searching for.

Soon they find themselves on a much used path. Phaedra sees track from creatures that are not know to them; they are wider than those of rothé. As they follow the trail –Phaedra in the lead– the scout hears snorting and ducks behind the nearest tree. Fortunately it seems closer than it is, due to the mountain’s acoustic. Phaedra signals to the others, who have heard nothing unusual over the wood’s natural sounds, whereupon the cleric sends forth another magical orb. When it returns to her hand, it brings news: there are two jet-black red-eyed creatures ahead, waiting in front of an opening in the mountain.

Phaedra sneaks closer, while Jharrath casts his awareness forward, toward the beasts. He gets the impression that these are no natural inhabitants of the forest. They are different, more powerful and bigger, than the draft animal that was harnessed to the chariot in the village. The cleric calls back her sister, whereupon Jharrath shares his findings with the others.

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The Battle Rages

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In a flash, an arrow embeds itself in the glittering mephit. The creature flutters to the ground, where it shows remarkable resilience. Alvra throws a javelin towards the hostile archer and follows the direction of his weapon. The enemy drow tries to take cover, which brings him closer to where Phaedra is hiding on the other side of the rim. She quickly replaces her arrow with another and awaits her opportunity.

Jharrath summons another, much bigger monster, which costs him dearly. His action has alerted one of the invisible priestesses and her footsteps come closer. A whispered spell calls down another flamestrike, hitting the Xaniqos wizard head on. The blast proves almost to be the end of him. Luckily Lilith quickly manages to heal her brother, and then strides forward to confront their attacker. With his last reserves, Jharrath strips the foreign drow of a layer of her protective spells. She counterattacks by conjuring a spiritual weapon over his head. A second archer appears behind the mephit and hits the creature twice, but is is still living. Tough little thing!

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The Xaniqos priestess calls upon the Spider Queen to grant her strength and calls forth dark bolts, but the dark light sputters out, due to the drow’s inherent magical resistance when it reaches her opponent. The drow smirks and Lilith glares back, determined to make her pay. The cleric’s smile fades when the mephit uses its breath weapon and releases a ten feet cone of salt crystals. At its back, the summoned earth elemental takes on the archer, but after a quick thrust, it is sent back to its plane.

Jharrath surrounds himself with six mirror images. Suddenly a figure, dressed in black, appears behind Lilith and stabs her in the back, and another one attacks Jharrath – or so she thinks. Two mirror images shatter. Quickly the wizard calls forth another elemental, to engage the female backstabbing rogue, while the salt mephit extracts water from their surroundings, sending it as a weapon towards their opponents. But soon its powers are defeated and it is gone.

Meanwhile Alvra sees the first drow move away and charges after the elf. He hits her hard, but then hears another grating yet vaguely familiar voice behind him, dripping with hatred. It was a setup. Through charred lips from yesterday’s confrontation, the female utters the last necromantic syllables for her incantation and lays her hand on the fighter, but Alvra’s constitution proves to be too strong for the deadly spell. A bastard swords whooshes through the air afterwards, aimed at Alvra’s back. He sidesteps, assesses the situation and is soon in a life or death fight with the female fighter, while keeping an eye on the deadly cleric.

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Phaedra comes out of hiding and shoots the cleric with a poisoned arrow. She then drops her bow and takes out her spiked chain. A tangle foot bag keeps the charred cleric at bay for a while, but then the dark elf calls out to her goddess. “Slay this fighter, Lolth!” Alvra grabs the opportunity to quickly counterattack, but gets hit by a nasty spell. He barely survives and pulls back towards safety. His sister also tumbles back and takes a potion. The enemy cleric disappears in layers of mist, and Phaedra hears footsteps fading. She tracks the fleeing cleric for a while.

The priestess near Lilith starts casting, causing her magical weapon to grow larger with each second, but the Xaniqos cleric counterattacks with a spell of her own and strips away the magical enhancements. Frustrated the woman hisses and attacks Lilith with her morningstar. The Xaniqos is too heavily armored and shrugs off the attack. Lilith’s flail lashes out and hits not once, but twice. Her faith in the Spider Queen is justified, as with a powerful spell, she inflicts mortal wounds to the second cleric.

As one after the other mirror image disappears under the ferocious attack of the rogue, Jharrath summons more elementals. One of them grapples the rogue, holding her tight, while the others pound her into the ground. The wizard ends her life with Kellgore’s fire-bolts.

Alvra retraces his steps and finds his javelins. What he doesn’t find though, is one of the drow who fell in the pit earlier during the fight. He assumed he was dead, but he must have sneaked off. He walks towards Lilith and receives a full healing. “One of the drow corpses turned out to be not quite dead yet,” he reports. Lilith acknowledges him with a nod and then turns her attention towards Jharrath. Together they search through the possessions of the fallen.

 

Of Radiation Sickness and Druid Spells

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Bereft of her sight, Phaedra’s senses seem to be heightened. Cautiously she continues deeper into the cave. When she walks around the corner of the corridor on the far right side, she gets very nauseated. She looks slightly pale, even for a drow. The pungent smell of mushrooms is very heavy.

I think there’s darklight ore in here!

Her sister walks towards the opening and sees a pile of ore on the left side, a full cart and three pickaxes. It seems to be a rich vein. Lilith also feels the effect of the glowing darklight ore.

Cleaning it away won’t do any good, all is contaminated,

Phaedra says, recovering slightly. The cleric calls upon Lolth and imbues herself with magical energy that protects better against the radiation. The drow move into the corridor single file, with an earth elemental, summoned by Jharrath, up front. In the distance the glow of violet mushrooms lights the area. Notwithstanding his mask, the fighter though is very nauseated and violently sick, while the others seem to fare better.

The mushrooms seem to thrive near the ore. Perhaps we can make an anti-toxin out of it. Jharrath, take a sample later on, so we can examine it.

Just when the wizard complies, a white figure dressed in animal skin glides into the corridor, fifteen feet above the ground. He’s surrounded by a shimmering aura, wears a wicked spear and a demonic smile. After drinking a potion, his image blurs.

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His murmur activates the violet mushrooms into an attack on the earth elemental, while two others attack from the side. Lilith immediately counterattacks by dispelling his magic. Suddenly the blur effect is gone, the aura lessens and with a surprised yelp the szarkai drops from the air.

They all take up fighting positions. Phaedra loads her crossbow and stands next to her wizard brother. When she hears the thump of an attack, she shoots, but blinded as she is, her bolt doesn’t find a target. Jharrath takes out a small ball of bat guano and sulfur and strikes at the szarkai with a fireball. The gigantic blast clears away all mushrooms near the szarkai and even hits the druid. Debris is falling everywhere, and sounds of the ceiling settling back into an unstable balance fill the air. After a hit from the earth elemental, the druid szarkai retreats around the corner.

Jharrath orders his elemental to charge after the white elf, and when he hears it hit something, he glances around the corner. The summoned ally is standing in the middle of blankets and bedrolls, surrounded by the remnants of a big rock that it smashed, while the druid again floats higher up. He seems to be healing himself. With a ray of clumsiness, Jharrath hinders their opponent, and his sister adds a spell, blasting the area with a tremendous cacophony. The others move forward too. A wall of smoke prevents the druid from making visual contact, but his voice calls out in Elven:

If I die, I will take at least one of you with me!

He calls upon the earth, and the earth obeys. A gigantic stalagmite rises up and tries to impale Lilith. She manages to jump to the side, but her armor is ruptured. A counterattack with her spiritual weapon goes awry because of this. Jharrath sends in a salt mephit, whose breath irritates the elf’s skin and eyes, and he strikes back with another spell. Two iron poles rise up next to the spell casters, and an arc of lightning jumps back and forth, hurting the drow. By jumping aside quickly, they manage to reduce their injuries.

By now, Lilith is totally fed up with the druid and lashes out with a counter spell. A vertical column of divine fire roars downward, wiping everything away except the fire mephit. Of the szarkai and the mushrooms only ashes are left.

Jharrath examines the remains and finds 20 platinum pieces, the short, wicked looking short spear, magical hide armor and a blurring potion in a scarred but still usable belt. He hands over the potion to the cleric and the spear to his brother, who is feeling better.

This seems to have been a temporary camp, but all clues are burned.

Phaedra isn’t too happy with this result, but doesn’t say anything about her feelings to her older sister.

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.

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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In pursuit

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Alvra escorts his sisters to the Matron Mother. Two minotaur stand guard at the doors, but Lilith strides in. Lady Thandysha, gazing out over Erelhei-Cinlu, sneers,

Really. Does it take three of you to report to me?

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Without as much as a glance, the fighter turns on his heels and heads towards his room. Lilith informs her mother about the events on the slave market.

I wonder how much House Vae is involved in this. And I don’t like that the shar’ans influence is growing. Blessed Seahaven is turning into a fortress. They might attack without fearing the consequences.

Phaedra offers that outsiders, originating from Looblishar, are parading without wearing the obligated green cloaks.

Their leader is a Whip, a kua toa priestess from Looblishar, I recognized her.

I want that Whip, and I want her tonight! And without House Vae knowing about it. They will have conducted their business rather quickly because of your actions tonight. Go and follow them. Find out what they are up to, I need more information. But do not jeopardize the House, make sure you are not seen.

When Lilith makes a smart-ass remark about the whip, the Matron Mother takes hold of her daughter. Her hand radiates power, making Lilith’s skin blister.

If you ask such a stupid question again, it will be your last!

Gritting her teeth, the cleric nods and heads towards the door.

On second thought, you just need to extract the information from the kua toan priestess, no need to bring her here. The risks are too high. Do what is necessary, but make sure you don’t damage our House, so be inconspicuous. Get the information and return.

The Matron Mother seems somewhat calmed, and two sisters pick up the others, telling them about the follow-up quest.

At the big gate, traffic seems slow. The guards – mainly clerics of House Tormtor – let them pass and the drow continue along the main path, westward towards Blessed Seahaven, cloaks and house insignia hidden. Phaedra scouts ahead, while the wizard makes sure they are not being followed. She catches up with a party, which consists of two slavers and their malnourished wares.

Has a group passed you this last hour? Phaedra asks.

Who wants to know?

My identity is my own, I am just asking you a question.

The scout’s temper rises at the males’ slow response. With help of one of Jharrath’s spells, Phaedra is able to talk to Lilith without being overheard, and with the cleric’s permission she uses more intimidation to get the answers she seeks.

I’m not alone! Answer my question, or…

With a meaningful glance, Phaedra loads her crossbow. The slavers growl:

We don’t mean you any harm, walk away while you still can.

She retorts: You don’t know who you’re dealing with.

The male drow point their crossbows at the scout, but their target suddenly vanishes, only to appear behind them with her weapon aimed at them.

You think a low-born drow could do this?

This time, her intimidation works.

What do you want from us?

I just want an answer. Has a Kua-Toa group passed this way?

Yes, about six.

That’s all I needed to know.

She puts her crossbow away and moves forward, leaving the slavers in a slight confusion.