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.

Ambushed!

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The drow hit the road in the dead of night, when the evil sun’s glare isn’t as fierce. Keeping to cover as often as possible, they travel the lands, past neglected and overgrown farmhouses. Phaedra falls back to keep an eye on possible pursuit. It’s a cold, windy and cloudy night. The Upperworld is quite unpleasant. After a while, they arrive at the end of the shrubbery. Up ahead the farmland is dotted with ruins. In the distance the rolling hills give way to higher mountains.

Jharrath and Theo exchange small talk. Apparently the Friezford drow uphold trade through the portal. Lilith checks the air, where patrolling ravens once again come closer. They feel evil. The Xaniqos run towards one of the ruins to hide, but apparently it’s too late: they have been spotted. Immediately the ravens fly southward – without a doubt straight towards the Hidden Dell, as Theo informs them. The drow cautiously follow the black birds over the deserted fields, ot of options for cover.

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Then a voice rings out from one of the ruins to their left. Elven chanting finds a way to Lolth, calling down a flame strike in their middle. Nimble Phaedra escapes without as much as a single blister, but the other drow all take damage. Their unfortunate guide is charred beyond recognition and slowly topples forward. Arrows buzz through the air, one striking the wizard in his chest, another piercing Phaedra’s armor. She quickly turns around and discovers both cleric and bowman. Both are dressed from head to toes in black.

Jharrath surrounds himself with five mirror images. He takes out a bit of bat guana and sends a fireball sizzling towards the silo, where the —soon to be severely injured— archer hides. He then takes position between his brother and sister.

The scout runs and crouches behind a wall, finding a bit of cover – or at least, that’s what she thought. Someone suddenly pops up, apparently coming out of invisibility, and fires a crossbow at Phaedra. She duplicates his tactics and disappears before the bolt can find her as a target. Taking out her spiked chain, she lashes out repeatedly. The drow’s rapier counterstrikes, and the two opponents battle back and forth. When her spiked chain doesn’t give her the results she wishes for, she exchanges it for her crossbow. The male charges and… Phaedra disappears from view, only to reappear a bit further on. The drow grins, seemingly enjoying the challenge. In sign language he says, If you surrender, you can always join us. The Xaniqos drow answers by blinding the dark elf.

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Further to the left, Lilith serves the unknown and hostile cleric a portion of her own medicine: a flame strike sears from the skies and strikes the female head on. A shriek gives voice to the hit, leading Alvra’s javelin her way as well.

More arrows cross the open area, passing through two of Jharrath’s mirror images. The second archer aims a wand at herself, then puts it away. The boost is successful, because her next arrow finds a crack in Lilith’s armor. The Xaniqos priestess roars and charges full towards her attacker. The drow archer didn’t exactly see that coming. Quickly she trades the bow for her rapier and aims it at Lilith, while an additional arrow from the silo finds its way into Lilith’s back. The cleric sends a stream of searing lights towards her attacker, following through with a spell, inflicting more damage to the heavily wounded drow archer. When the opponent tries to tumble past Lilith, almost stabbing her in the neck, the priestess attacks with another spell and kills her.

Alvra follows the course his javelin took earlier and finds another archer behind a wall. And though his attack is well coordinated, it still misses. Something else seems to be aiding these drow. The hostile cleric once again calls upon Lolth and a dagger appears out of thin air, poking down on the Xaniqos fighter. He shrugs off the effects and concentrates on dislodging the bow from the archer’s hands. He succeeds, but gets hit again and again. He takes a moment to step back and take a healing potion.

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A huge earth elemental appears near the enemy cleric, summoned by Jharrath. She tries to dispel the creature, but it hits back and does more damage to the female. With the help of her wand, she disappears from view, but the elemental is not dazes by her act. He pummels down with his bludgeoning fists. Again the hostile cleric disappears.

The wizard directs his attention towards the archer in the blackened silo and ends his life with a fireball. He cautiously finds his way towards the part of the ruin where the scout is battling, but his joy in the successful attack is rather short lived. Once again he takes an arrow and hits the ground, unconscious. Lilith marches towards her fallen brother, receiving more arrows in the process.

Phaedra quickly pours a healing potion down Jharrath’s throat and then faces the male fighter again. Silently she sneaks towards him, moves behind him and comes out of her invisibility. In two well placed attacks, she kills her opponent.

Two new elementals come to Alvra’s aid – the fighter is definitely having a bad day. Together they finally manage to put his bastard sword wielding enemy down.

Silence returns, only disturbed by the panting of the Xaniqos siblings. Of the wounded cleric, not a sign.

Fight at the riverside

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Hearing the tumult from within, Phaedra immediately gives chase. When the cleric appears, she see her sister running towards the river and also heads in that direction, followed on her heels by the male Xaniqos. A lot of splashing indicates where Theo entered the river.

He’s getting away! Phaedra alerts the others in sign language. The wizard casts one of his spells, dispelling the male’s magic, and a shape becomes visible in the swift current. The scout jumps after him and swims to the other shore, while Lilith loads her crossbow.

When Theo’s outline is lightened by Alvra’s fairy fire, he realizes he’s been spotted. And if he was still in doubt, that hope vaporizes quickly when two earth elementals materialize behind him. The monsters grapple him, but Theo is a tough cookie. It takes four more small elementals to finally pummel him unconscious. Phaedra binds his wrists and feet, and with a long rope Lilith and Alvra pull the drow back towards their side of the river, the scout supporting his head to keep him from drowning.

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They move him to the bushes, where Lilith starts her interrogation. Luckily the curious spectators from the inn have gone back inside.

“Why did you run?”

The drow doesn’t say anything. He seems to be more scared of his boss than of the Xaniqos siblings.

“OK, Alvra, cut off his finger.”, Lilith orders. Theo gives her a calculated stare.
“What’s in it for me?”
“How about a slow or a quick death?”

When Alvra puts his rapier under the dark elf’s fingernail, he gets ready to talk.

“Last chance,”, the cleric repeats, “what’s your name and why did you run? Why are you really here?”
“My name is Vaarz, and we live here with a large group for profit. There’s lots of gold to be plundered from passing caravans. Our leader is a drow cleric, and we live about 6 or 7 miles south of the inn. We live a rather good life. The two women in our company have killed everyone and put a curse on the humans, so they take excellent care of us. You are the first drow we have seen in a long, long time.”
“What does your leader look like, what is her name?”
“That I don’t know, but she is an older priestess,” Vaarz says, hesitating slightly. “I can show you the way to the Hidden Dell though.” Lilith arches her eyebrow.
“And why are two men guarding that tower over there?”, Phaedra pits in.
“They’re guarding the former church of Pelinor.”

Alvra searches Theo’s piwafwi for hidden treasures and weapons. The cloak is magical, and the rapier is of a good quality. A small crossbow and a quiver with darts, plus a healing potion are also among his possessions. Lilith finds a wand, an antitoxin, a tanglefoot bag, a thunder stone plus a small, very thin arcane spellbook.

“If you want to get back to the Underdark, you will have to go to the Hidden Dell, since the mistress has the key to open the portal. But if they attack, I suggest you run! There are twenty drow and four of you. And you are in no shape to run.”

Vaarz has a point: the Xaniqos are exhausted and hurt. Phaedra manages to find boards for a make-shift bridge across the river. They make camp in bushes, away from the road, where Lilith heals those who need it. During her watch, Phaedra sees a flock of ugly ravens fly before the moon. They keep circling, like they are searching the lands, and she can only hope they haven’t seen her. She wakes her brother.

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“I’m not really used to surface birds, but I saw ravens who didn’t act like ravens should.”

Alvra notices them too and calls forth a globe of darkness to disguise their whereabouts. In the middle of the night, again the flock of birds patrols the skies, after which they seem to return to the village. They make a lot of noise, but stay out of range. The night is full of unknown sounds anyhow, but despite the chirping, rustling, and the ever-present wind, they manage to sleep a bit.

 

Old Stinky’s Place

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Phaedra wakes up with the smell of meat in her nose. Finally the effects of the drow sleeping poison wear off. While she shares the plate with the wizard, Alvra brings her up to date. They follow the fellow’s instructions, taking the road towards Old Stinky’s Place. On their way, they meet an old man and woman.

“Better go inside,” they say, “there’s a storm brewing!”

Lilith and Alvra continue towards the inn, while the wizard follows. It is in bad shape, overgrown and full of moss. The fighter gazes through the blinds, crooked on their hinges. A fat man is serving behind the bar; two others are playing darts, but without the darts. At the far end, a drow —all dressed in black— is talking enthusiastically with two others. Jharrath notices that none present have shadows, except for their fellow dark elf.

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When the cleric steps inside, the drow man cowers a bit, trying to make himself inconspicuous. Alvra assesses the man’s skills.

“Now what can I do for you? Do you need food? A room?” Lilith looks at the broken stairs and then back at the bartender. The place is in shambles. “Just a drink for now.” She accepts a mug of ale.

“Why aren’t you at the party?”
“Because I don’t dance,” the drow cleric says sharply.

Her brother joins her and asks for food, whereupon the inn keeper offers him a plate of stew.

Alvra, who’s been keeping an eye on the unknown drow, notices that the guy only has eyes and ears for his sister. He hardly participates in his earlier conversations with the two humans. The fighter straightens –making his presence a bit more threatening– steps closer to the other male drow and asks,

“What brings you to Old Stinky’s Place?”
“I live here, further down the road. And you?”
“Ah, we’re just passing through.”
“Hmmm, yours seems to be a small group.”
“As far as you can see, yes.”
“You’re accompanied by a cleric, and your hungry friend over there is no fighter. Hmm, quite odd.”

Alvra ignores the remark.

“Why do you want to live above grounds?”
“Why not. Here I have everything I want. And it is one of the nicest villages around.”
“I don’t believe you, there must be something else.” Alvra stares at him.
“OK, let’s say it’s a lucrative environment.”
“By lucrative, you mean looting?”
“Yes, that too. But we’re also being conveniently spoiled by the former residents.”
“Why are they still here?”
“That’s because of the curse – I know the person who has delivered it. But we don’t exactly mind. In fact, it comes in quite handy.”
“What do you call yourself?”
“I’m Theo. What’s it to you?”
“Ah, so you are the joker! Ton mentioned you. Come on, let’s hear a good joke.”

Alvra stares at him expectantly. The other drow looks around, slightly baffled.

“I had no idea I was famous? But I don’t know any jokes.”

The fighter decides to throw in some bait.

“Do you know a drow female with a difficult name? Ton advised us to contact her.”
“Sorry, I can’t help you.”

And with a quick gesture, the drow drinks a potion and disappears. Alvra grabs his sword and swings it where the drow has been standing mere seconds ago. The two ghosts jump aside, startled and a bit scared.

Old Stinky speaks up.

“Hey! We do not tolerate this kind of behavior in my inn!”
“Do accept our apologies,” Alvra replies, “making trouble seems to be in our culture.”

His words restore a bit of the earlier amiability.

The younger Xaniqos sister has been scouting the surroundings, keeping to the bushes and greenery. On the other side of Old Stinky’s Place is a collapsed tower, also in a bad shape. Phaedra sees broken benches and a lot of rubble. She notices that several slabs of stone are deliberately positioned over the pieces of stone and mortar. When she sneaks inside, she sees two human guards patrolling the site. Could this be an entrance?

She heads back towards the inn entrance to rejoin the others, when suddenly she feels someone bump into her. She sees no one though. Acting immediately, she activates an ability and sees a strange drow taking off towards the stream.

The Barn Dance

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Inside, people are eating, very cheery and very happy. A band is playing a merry tune on a stage. One of the two armed guards invites the drow to step inside. Lilith asks him some questions, while Alvra tries to sense his motives.

“What’s going on here?”
“Ah, just a harvest party, with our boys and girls dancing and having a good time.”
“And what is the name of this settlement?”
“It is Friezford. Why, I thought you knew? Do you not belong to the other drow party?”

The smell of food wafts through the open door, and Alvra’s stomach growls.

“Someone walked through that wall earlier,” the Cleric says.
“That is ghosts you are talking about!” the guard says. “Stop scaring these fine folks and get out of the rain. Come inside! You look like you could use a bit of meat on those bones.”

The fighter takes a quick look through the door and sees a dance couple slowly disappearing into the ground. He hand signals his sister. Concentrating, she senses that none of these people are really on this plane. The cleric nods to Alvra and steps inside. While Lilith takes a bowl of fruit and eats with small bites (after making sure it’s not poisoned), her brother heaps his plate with meat. The large mug of ale goes nicely with it.

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“So how do you like this party so far?” One of the party members addresses the drow.
“Well, the dancing is a bit odd,” –the drow sees men and women line up and duplicate each other’s moves– “and the music is not what we’re used to, but the meat is fine. What kind of animal is this?”

They banter back and forth, and after a while Alvra asks after the other drow party.

“That would be Ton and Theo, the guard says. They are part of two families who live in the neighborhood. And yes, there is also a woman, but her name is not… what did you call her? Amalika? No, but it is a strange name. If only I could remember… But how nice that you’ve come! Here, you should try this too: it is roasted sheep!” He doesn’t seem too fond of gossiping.

To Alvra, the meat tastes like rothé, and that’s good enough for him.

“You were saying about Theo’s family?”

But the guard seems done talking about the dark elves and starts a long story about farming. The fighter interrupts his story and tries again.

“What are these drow families doing here?”
“I don’t really know. If you want more information, you should go to Old Stinky’s Place. He knows everything. It is down this street, to the left before the stream. Your brother hangs out there often, because –shhh don’t say I mentioned it– they serve heavier drinks over there.”

Lilith, who has been observing the conversation, steps out again and orders her brother to bring food for their siblings. She is done with all this ridiculous merriment.

 

An unexpected party

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With the wolves at a safe distance, the Xaniqos take a moment to catch their breath and heal themselves. Meanwhile the wind picks up and dark clouds roll across the sky. Big fat raindrops fall upon their upturned faces, while lightening etches paths of fire across the sky.

What sorcery is this?!

As in reply, a thunderclap echoes through the trees. When nothing bad seems to happen, they continue on their path through the dark forest. Her eyes on the tracks, the scouts follows the imprints. Hours pass, and the trees become less dense. A valley opens up and in the clearing, they see a big building with a thatched roof.

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There seems to be movement inside the barn. Phaedra signals the others to stop and keep their distance, but Alvra, intrigued by the new world that surrounds him, is oblivious to his sister’s sign. Lilith has to drag him back behind the tree cover.

The scout sneaks towards the shuttered window and takes a quick peek. Light and music spills from the structure, and people are dancing to merry music. Two drow are piling food on a cart. On her way back to report to her cleric sister, Phaedra sees people walking down the road towards the barn. They look like human farmers and speak common.

Hmm, it is strange that drow are mingling with humans,

Lilith says,

Go back and see if you can find out more.

Phaedra obeys and runs back to the barn under cover of the night. Another human nears the building, wearing armor. Is there a party going on? Suddenly she hears a male voice.

See you next time!

and a guy walks straight through the wall. The music swells and laughter roars through the night. Two more women approach and disappear into the house. The party is getting more boisterous by the minute.

It is a very weird house, and the wall seems to be fake!

Upon his sister’s words, Jharrath steps out from behind the trees and casts a spell to detect magic. Then he is spotted by a man who comes around the corner.

Hey, come inside! It’s cold out here and we’re waiting for you.

The guy gestures towards the building.

Come along now, it’s warm and cozy. The hostess has prepared a nice dinner, there’s lots of food and drink. Plus company!

The wizard tries to sense the guy’s motive and though he seems to be sincere, Jharrath still doesn’t trust the situation. The man is a bit too pushy towards a total stranger.

Yes yes, I’ll be along in a short while. I need to smoke a pipe first.

The two women who went inside earlier, step out with flushed faces.

Come on, dance with us! Don’t be so shy, we don’t see you enough!

And -overflowing with enthusiasm- they try to hook arms with the wizard. Too close to his liking, Jharrath teleports to a safe distance.

Wow, that is SO neat. Tricks! You just HAVE to show this to the others. You’re a pro, come on inside.

Alvra and Lilith are watching the spectacle from the edge of the forest, ready to intervene if necessary. Phaedra checks out the other side of the building and sees two drow, dressed in black, who are hauling a large bag onto a cart. One of them looks up and yells,

Who are you? Where do you come from?!

From the woods,

the scout replies, trying to sound nonchalant, but the two male take off at full speed. When Phaedra peeks into the bag, she sees lots of food: potatoes, cakes, fruit. She chases after them, but gets hit by two bolts. The last thing she hears before she becomes unconscious is “Take her!”. Drow knock-out poison works fast.

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Jharrath is close enough to see what happens to his sister. He immediately takes out a candle and walks towards the still form of Phaedra. The women grab him again, and because of the ongoing exorbitantly cheeriness, the wizard suspect an enchantment. The wizard summons a large elemental, and he orders it to pick up his sister and carry her towards the trees. Upon seeing the elemental, the drow in black run away.

The armored human takes out his sword and pokes Jharrath.

Come, you must help,

He hits Jharrath with the flat side of the sword; the blade is icy cold.

Take her inside!

The male is getting very insistent, and two more appear. The situation is getting grim. Lilith, who approaches at the first signs of trouble, notices that the human’s feet don’t leave any tracks and they feel unnatural. When Alvra pokes the shape with his finger, it goes straight through. The ‘humans’ move back into the house. What is going on here?