A change of positions

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When they arrive at the mansion, Leargath goes his own way, while the siblings carry the body of the warlock inside. Immediately drow slaves take it to the morgue. After a while, they are invited to the throne room, where lady Thandysha seems to be in a positive mood. All the important people of House Xaniqos are present.

“Good to see you. I presume your mission was a success?” As always the Matron Mother doesn’t leave much room for failure.

“Yes, Mother. House Despana was behind the abduction of our captain. They wanted information about the rod, as well as punish us. And though we managed to save Solaufein, he is in no condition to secure our House. We brought back the warlord’s body though, it is at your disposal at the morgue.” Lilith and Phaedra continue to relate the happenings of the last day.

At that moment Alvra steps up and makes his ambitions clear. “Make me captain of the guard! I will take Solaufein’s position.”

Alvra
Quarra snorts indignantly but holds her tongue.
“Alvra, that is a bold statement,” the Matron Mother says. “The captain of the guard is also my personal guard. It is a high position. What do your siblings think about your proposal?” She turns towards Lilith. “Is he qualified?”

The cleric assesses the fighter, then nods. A simple yes is her reply.
“I have only seen his group activities, and he knows his position.” Phaedra shrugs. Jharrath doesn’t object either. “He’s up to the task. But I’d love to hear what Quarra thinks of this.”
“Well thank you, Jharrath”, an overly polite Quarra replies. “You all seem to back up Alvra. And if Lilith says he’s able, then, by all means, Mother, we must give him our support too.”
Lady Thandysha briefly glances at her consort, who nods approvingly.

“Since everybody is here, it is settled now. Welcome, Alvra, as the new captain of the guard of House Xaniqos. Thaldinyon will fill you in. We will meet each other in a few hours, and talk about how we deal with House Despana. Its actions can not be tolerated!”

The mansion is bigger and more luxurious than their former residence, and so are their rooms. After a visit to the House clerics for healing, the men leave for the bathhouse, where they lazily float in the water. Alas, their peace doesn’t last very long, for Phaedra comes to get them on her sister’s behalf. “We must meet her at the chapel,” she says, “that’s all I know.”

Lilith is in the chapel, worshiping the Spider Queen. When she hears their footsteps, she turns around and welcomes her siblings. “Tell me, Alvra. What are your plans as the new captain of the guard?” The fighter plans to expand the number of guards. He also plans to use the lizard mounts more. The cleric is pleased to hear that. She gathers her sister and brothers and heals them all. Back in their rooms, Jharrath identifies the cloak as a magical cloak of charisma. This lightweight and fashionable cloak has a highly decorative silver trim. Lilith keeps it for herself; the mithril shirt goes to Phaedra.

It is already late when they are summoned to the Matron Mother’s room. Lady Thandysha is seated at the head of the table. Quarra and K’yorl are seated in their usual chairs, but Alvra’s seat has been upgraded.

“Welcome all. It is time for our House to step forward and take our rightful place. We will not be the last House any longer. We have grown in power, we have many soldiers and slaves. We have risen in prestige, and will now measure ourselves in strength as well. The rod causes a lot of unrest. Despana doesn’t have it, and neither have we. The rod will cause a shift in power. She who has the rod has the upper hand.

Phaedra, I hope you will aid our House with your skills. House Despana is the perfect prey. We will have to take away their assets in the city. We need to know what happens at the Ghetto of Savages. Who are our allies, how are the political relations in the city? House Vae is engaged in a surface war. House Aleval is running a covert war.

Furthermore, there is a shortage of certain ingredients in our household. You will have to get them for me at Potions & Poisons, located in the Ghetto of Artisans. Start your investigations in the morning.“ Lady Thandysha hands her daughter a scroll with ingredients and a bag of gems, worth 15.000 GP. “Go to the shop, Lilith. Mind you, he is the best poison maker in town, but something is wrong with his mind.” The scroll reads:

  • knockout poison 20x
  • dark ore 1x
  • poison virile madness 1x
  • sick stones 20x

Laboratory

The Potions & Poisons is located in the same street as Nyttoris Arms & Armor. The detached building at the end of the street in the Ghetto of Artisans appears to be closed, everything is shut, but when Lilith tries the door, it opens. She and Jharrath step inside. The interior resembles a laboratory. There is stuff bubbling everywhere, and the smell is very heavy, very chemical. On the top floor, lots of adamantine spider constructs are moving around. In the back of the room is a very large, very real spider. The beast takes up more than half of the space.

Someone is working at an alchemy table: a man, dressed in black and wearing green armor. One look and you know that he is evil through and through… and crazy as a bat.

Arachnomancer

“Xu’klir, we have guests!” he says to the monstrous spider. Poisonmaker Lha’zis Ulvira resembles a spider himself. When Lilith tells him what they need, the arachnomancer complains about his stocks. “We are running low on supplies and I don’t have all the things you need. You see, there are problems with deliveries by the caravans. They have not arrived from Maerimydra yet, and none of the investigating parties have returned.”

“Do we get a discount if we help you?”, Jharrath haggles. “You’ll only need to pay for the poison of virile madness if you can get me a sack of blood moss. But be careful not to add fire to it. The blood moss can be found to the southwest of Erelhei-Cinlu, about two days of travel. I also need the poison glands of a purple worm.”

“And where might we find one?”

“No one knows for sure, but there are rumors that one has been sighted to the northwest of here.”

And with that news, Lilith and Jharrath return home.

Battle Axe Black

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Back home, Jharrath gorges himself until bursting and then eats some more. A scolding hot bath makes him feel almost as good as new. Almost… Somehow he feels changed.
The next morning finds House Xaniqos in turmoil. All siblings are called towards a meeting in the throne room.

“Welcome back!” Lady Thandysha almost purrs. “I have found a worthy task for you, to show the strength of our House and to deal a blow to our enemies. Tomorrow morning you will go to the Arena in the Ghetto of the Savages, and sign up for the fights. It should be an interesting program. An important noble of House Despana wants to prove himself, and –if you all provoke him enough with your display of strength– he will appear in the Arena in person. Destroy him. House Despana may be able to change the rules, but they have to let you go once you’re victorious.”

As an afterthought, she adds: “And siblings? Do NOT fail me! Lolth is watching and testing you. Do well, and your status could improve within our House. I will see you tomorrow at the arena.”

Taldinyon takes Alvra aside. “I’m watching you closely. If you truly are the future of this House, you could be a weapon master yourself.”
Meanwhile, Jharrath has a likewise conversation with the house wizard. “I’m looking forward to your tricks tomorrow, and I do hope you will show more than the average magician.” The rivals look each other in the eye. “Oh, you can be assured of that, K’yorl.”
As they are about to leave, Quarra saunters towards her younger sister and wishes her good luck, in the open! Surprised, Lilith nods her head in appreciation. “Thank you, sister!” The whole house seems uncharacteristically united in their support of the adventurers.

With the good wishes and warnings still fresh on their minds, the next morning the four drow walk towards the Ghetto of the Savages. The rest of their House will arrive later. Well armed drow patrol the district. There are troglodytes and trolls —some of which approach them for work— and many goblins.

Troglodyte

In front of the Arena is a large inn, with loud music pouring from the entrance. A duergar is holding a mixed crowd enthralled with this story. “In the Old Battle Axe”, a sign over his head says. A battered axe emphasizes the inn’s name. The place is run by a female bugbear and her two sons.

When the Xaniqos enter, the proprietor bids them welcome and asks what they’d like to drink.
“Water please,” Phaedra says. Lilith echoes her sister’s order.
The bugbear almost chokes. “Water?!” she mutters, “I have never heard such a peculiar request. How about you, gentlemen. Can I get you something stronger? We have Elf Blood; we serve a tasty Chieftain’s brew, and a nice strong Battle Axe Black!” She orders her sons to clear a table. Within seconds the bugbears start tossing dwarfs, goblins, and even a bugbear to the side. When the Xaniqos take their seats, the innkeeper returns with the drinks.

Jharrath takes a sip of his drink. The Elf Blood is bright red and even looks like blood. And though it appears to be wine, there’s a hint of iron to it.

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The bugbears both stare at Alvra. “A Battle Axe Black! You are strong, we are impressed! The drow fighter raises the mug warm, bubbling beer to his mouth and, ignoring the foul smell, takes a firm sip. The super strong ‘beer’ carves a trail of fierceness down his throat, and his heart is pounding in his ears. Alvra spits out the remaining liquid, sputtering and gasping for air. “Humph, we thought you were stronger.” Disappointed, the two bugbears turn away. The drow quickly empties the mug over his shoulder and slams it on the table. Perhaps drinking wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Meanwhile, the duergar continues his Arena stories, and the drow listen, quietly observing the customers. It is almost time.

Mutual Acquaintances

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In the next few days, the drow keep themselves occupied. Alvra spends his time training with bugbears. He would have liked to train with the lizards as well, but they are still back at the noble estate.

Interested in learning more about the area of Szith morcane, the cleric sets out to find a cartographer at the Palace of Scribes. Accompanied by the captain and two guards, she arrives unhindered in the district of House Shi’quos. The scholars give her entrance to the tower where the scribes keep the cards. An old scroll shows her the city of Maerimydra, which was built in the shape of a spider before it was demolished by the demon hordes. Szith morcane is only a small outpost of the prominent city.

Their wizard brother is in his lab in the district, while Phaedra mingles -anonymously- with the people. Though the quarter has been renovated, there are still enough outcasts and beggars around. One of them approaches the scout and tells her a mutual acquaintance wants to see her in the Hideaway, a place for runaways.

Do you know his name?

When the guy shakes his head, she asks him to describe the acquaintance.

He looks fishy, Mistress.

Intrigued, Phaedra follows the beggar. At the inn, the innkeeper Melash d’Falla points at the stairs.

Take a left at the top.

She taps on the door and a watery voice says “Who is it?” When the drow opens the door, she sees a familiar face. It is Vuon, the Sharran priest from Blessed Seahaven! Submerged in his bathtub, the kua-toa thanks Phaedra for coming.

 I need your help.

Oh, and why would we help you?

Well, a mutual acquaintance is going to be very happy.

kua-toa

There seem to be an awful lot of ‘mutual acquaintances’ today, Phaedra mutters.

The Spymaster will be grateful, Mistress, we serve the same master.

And what’s in it for us?

We will grant you access to some of the portals.

Phaedra nods at the kua-toa to continue.

Three weeks ago, an ogre-vampire appeared at our temple. He wormed his way in by telling secrets and many lies! He took my second-in-command, turned him, and has overthrown us. I need you to clear out the temple, Mistress Phaedra. Will you help us?

Before I can do that, I will have to discuss it with our Matron Mother. Enjoy your bath, Vuon, I will be back with an answer.

The kua-toa will stay at the Hideaway until she returns.

Phaedra goes back to the estate and asks for an audience with the Matron Mother. As it will take a while, the siblings pay a visit to Nyttoris Arms & Armor in the meantime, where Nyttoris is very glad to see them.

shop

The Xaniqos pile their loot on the counter. While they are waiting for Nyttoris to assess the items, a beautiful drow woman serves them snacks and drinks.

Well, well, well. You have been busy! Will I get into trouble with this stuff?

Nah, the former owners have passed away,

Phaedra answers with a wink.

As always Nyttoris is a graceful host and his daughter a good distraction in the negotiations. Eventually the Xaniqos siblings leave the store without their loot but with plenty of gold!

Back at the house, Phaedra is granted an audience with the Matron Mother. She tells Lady Thandysha that she is approached by a Sharran high priest of Looblishar.

He told me that his temple has been taken over by the Ogre vampire, and wants us to clear it out. In return he will give us access to some portals. If it’s the night portal, it could be helpful in our mission to find the Dark Fate rod. I could go back and ask him more information?

Access to an important portal could be interesting indeed.

Phaedra returns to Vuon, introducing Jharrath.

As you probably guessed, House Xaniqos is interested in your proposition. We want to hear more about the portals; which ones are we talking about?

Only the Spymaster can tell you, Master Wizard. You may choose only one, but you can pick a suitable one.

Can we talk to the Spymaster ourselves?

He is in Looblishar, it will take two weeks to contact him. But the Spymaster needs you, and not many can say that.

When Phaedra asks about the temple security, the former high priest draws a map with two secret passages to his old room.

What is the name of your former second-in-command?

Sloomike Goldskill, but I suspect him to be cursed now too. There are ten to twelve armed Kua-toas – three of them are whips – plus a couple of monks and fighters in the temple. By the way, Mistress, all connections between House Xaniqos and Blessed Seahaven have stopped and the trade deal has ended, due to the miscommunication with a female of Erelhei-Cinlu. A buffed one, and not too diplomatic.

Back home Phaedra talks to the Matron Mother again.

We will only gain access to one portal, but it will be beneficial. Furthermore, Vuon mentioned that our trade deal has been broken?

I know, Quarra told me; I’m afraid Vuon was not impressed about her diplomatic skills.

The Lady Thandysha likes Phaedra’s suggestion that they might be able to bring the trade back by helping the kua-toas and sends them on their way to deal with the problem.

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.

pryingeye

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 Cloaker Lord

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The Xaniqos try to rest, while Phaedra keeps watch. It is unnerving to hear and not see. When two hours have passed, new flapping sounds can be heard close to where they were ambushed. They don’t seem to come closer though, and the scout doesn’t feel she ought to wake the others – yet. After a while, Alvra takes over the watch; he’s not totally rested but does feel somewhat better. In the quiet of the night the fighter hears moaning wails, one answering the other. His fighting experience tells him that an attack is impending, since the beasts are gathering again. When the numbers keep growing, the urgency to leave grows too and he softly wakes Lilith. Trusting her brother’s instincts, she orders him to wake the others and dons her armor. Jharrath’s spells have not returned yet, and neither have her own, but their enemies are approaching once more.

Jharrath has just cast tentacles of force, when a loud sonic screech resounds. The sound grates on their nerves, but, apart from Phaedra who starts shaking, the drow break loose from the effect. While the dreadful moaning continues, the cleric gazes beyond the tentacles and catches not only glimpses of cloakers, but also of a larger specimen in the shadows of the Underdark tunnel. She grabs her sister’s hand and pulls her along – away from the area – with Alvra in the lead. Suddenly Lilith notices how the air shimmers near them: someone – or something – is coming!

CloakerLord

A huge cloaker materializes from the shadows near the wizard, several smaller ones hovering near. Jharrath uses his dimension boots and reappears in front of his siblings. Alvra keeps on running full speed, with his sisters on his heels, Phaedra being guided by Lilith. The scout seems to be in a deep trance, unable to defend or attack. The winged beasts follow in formation. Jharrath casts a fireball at their attackers, but again the Cloaker Lord plane shifts. The explosion rocks the corridors and for a little while the moaning stops. The drow get the feeling they’re being herded, the creatures are waiting for them to take a wrong turn. Alvra is somehow able to avoid the dead ends and seems to know where he’s going.

After fifteen minutes of hot pursuit, the moaning stops and then seems to go away entirely. The fighter still keeps on running, and when they’re no longer able, forces them into a quick march. Suddenly he hears an alien, sonic voice saying ‘And stay back!’, while the last word eerily echoes through the underground. He has the feeling this might have been their end. When Phaedra, who has come to her senses, hears about the apparition, she tells her siblings this was probably a cloaker lord, a superior sub-race of this feared subterranean race.

Once they have caught their breath, they continue once more. Alvra doesn’t know exactly where he is, but he manages to find them a reasonably safe spot where they can rest. He keeps watch though, and stays alert throughout the night. The darkness stays quiet.

A damn good fighter, but easily confused

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The naga’s body lies still at their feet, defeated after an intense battle. Phaedra climbs the plateau and releases the Astral Shard. The gem loses some of its luster and suddenly it becomes very quiet. The scouts shows the stone to her brother, and Jharrath detects very strong magic in it.

This gem is used as a conductor, a source of magic; it contains lots of energy. This is a very powerful item. Alvra, the person we are obtaining it for, is he a very good friend of our House?

The fighter confirms this, and adds that only a few can use it.

Hmmm OK. But I’d like to use this tower for myself.

We will let our Matron Mother decide, Jharrath!

Lilith says. She proceeds by healing and strengthening her siblings some more, and then walks to the serpent’s corpse. Carefully removing one of the creature’s fangs, she taps the glands and stores the poison in her backpack.

On their way down, they notice that the room with the silver strands is empty. Apparently the removal of the Astral Shard has stopped the energy flow. The ice ball in the room, one level lower, is slowly melting, dripping. Its defense mechanism is still operational though, and the cleric is hit by a cold ray. The others pass safely, and soon they are standing in the room with the map of the Earth Nodes. The nodes’ radius touches the Isle of Scribes, which explains why the magic is so strong here. Jharrath rolls the map carefully and stashes it in a container. They also find a a potion of invisibility, forty platinum pieces, a pearl necklace and ten stones with a kind of braille script on it. Perhaps a mind flayer script? Jharrath takes a moment to thank the cleric for saving his life.

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On the lower level, the umber hulks are making a lot of ruckus. Lilith orders the wizard to summon elementals and deal with the situation. Jharrath takes out a candle, says an incantation and calls up a large earth elemental.

Go downstairs and lure the beasts away from the staircase.

The elemental glides through the stone floor and – judging from the noises that arise – lands smack on top of one of the umber hulks. All hell breaks loose, and the drow hurriedly walk down the stairs. Just as Alvra passes the room, one of the umber hulks looks up and focuses on the fighter with its four-eyed gaze. Alvra’s eyes glaze over, but he continues towards the opening on ground level.

Suddenly he steps forward, rudely pushes his brother to the side and takes off towards the exit. Jharrath and Lilith understand what has happened and the cleric unleashes a spell to free Alvra from the umber hulk’s influence. The fighter chatters a bit. Lilith hauls on his arm and leads him towards the opening. The fresh air seems to snap him out of it, but a moment later, his eyes go wild again and he attacks his cleric sister!

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Barely holding a leash on her temper, Lilith slaps Alvra hard in the face.

Come to your senses, man!

The male drow babbles incoherently.

With a hard shove, she pushes him in the right direction and after a while, Alvra is back to normal. Lilith sets a brisk pace and pointedly ignores her brother. He follows like a beaten dog.

They arrive safely at House Xaniqos, where the next day, the cleric makes sure both her brothers regain their lost abilities by use of restoration spells. Jharrath takes the time to thoroughly examine the gem necklace Phaedra found in the iron chest: it is a necklace of fireballs, with four charges left.

Really? A mindflayer?

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The Xaniqos pick up their weapons and are escorted from the premises, when Alvra asks

Mistress, are we in a hurry to return to our House? An acquaintance of Taldinyon has asked me to pick up a couple of items at the tower of Uliordell – a mindflayer – while we’re in the neighborhood.

Not now, Alvra. The matter at hand is of the gravest importance, we need to get back to the Matron Mother immediately!

Back at the mansion, the two sisters report to Lady Thandysha. She listens intently to what Lilith has to say, nods, and then turns to Phaedra.

House Vae has been in contact, and has assured me they had nothing to do with the slave trade of the Shar’ans.

Ah, so the venerable Flesh peddler acted on his own?

Yes. I was on the verge of breaking up our relationship with House Vae, but now… Your sleeping around has turned out right for once. Hmm, you might be useful after all. Our House could profit from this slave trade.
You are all free to do as you want until the Council meets.

The Matron Mother seems content.

While the cleric visits the chapel to pray to Lolth, and Phaedra takes care of some business, the wizard sets out in search of his brother. After checking out the fighter’s room, the arena and dining room, he finds him at the bathhouse, where Alvra is washing away the bugbear stench.

Mindflayer UliOrdel

Tell me, brother. How did you come by this assignment? A mindflayer? In what location can we find him?

I don’t know which tower exactly. I was advised to ask YOU for advice, Jharrath.

When Alvra suggests the four of them ought to be able to do the job, the wizard replies:

Brute force alone is not enough. You can interrupt the mindflayer’s casting, but only by doing a lot of damage, so his concentration is broken. And his force of will is enormous. Psionics are not bound to any House, they are independent. Let me think on this a little while longer.

Later on, Lilith approaches her brothers. Alvra is not at liberty to reveal the name of his client, but he does tell her that they will be looking for a special kind of gem. Asked for battle tactics, he advises don’t talk, just fight physically. The wizard knows where the illithid has its residence, and has a plan for entering the tower. But first he has to copy a special scroll to his spell book: pass wall. Lilith allows it, and a day later, they set out on the quest.