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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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…