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 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.

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?

Thandysha

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.

The Calling

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Welcome to this Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 adventure in the strange and fascinating world of the Drow Elves…

THE UNDERDARK

It all starts when four siblings of the house of Xaniqos receive an urgent message to return home immediately. They leave their various academies – scout Phaedra, wizard Jharrath, fighter Alvra and cleric Lilith – and hurry towards their new home in Erelhei-Cinlu.

Like all drow cities, Erelhei-Cinlu is situated underground and is built on an island. Only one bridge leads from the city into the Underdark. There is a wall all around it and in the west another bridge leads to the Noble Estates. This area is backed up by a huge cliff.

In the early morning the four are supposed to report to the Matron Mother in the hall near the altar of Lolth. Jharrath hurries down the stairs, a drow of average height with a smooth stoic face and straight shoulder long hair. Dressed in a gray robe with long sleeves, boots and some simple jewelry, he walks towards the central room. His eldest brother Alvra follows on his heels, a long and muscled lean drow, sturdy and – like his brother – stoic, even a bit surly, dressed in a chain shirt and a piwafwi. His eyes are bright red.

Downstairs the rest of the family is already gathered. A petite female with silver hair and amber eyes is among them: their sister Phaedra, third daughter of the House of Xaniqos. In her short dress, high boots and gloves she looks quite beautiful. She is wearing a spider on a choker around her neck. Next to her is their other sister and second daughter, Lilith. Slim yet wiry, with a pure black skin and lavender almond-shaped eyes, she is dressed in tight-fitting black long skirts with high splits and a leather bustier with red silk accents and a family brooch. She wears a leather band around her neck and and holds her long white hair back with hairpins, so it tumbles down her back in a nonchalant mass.

Their mother Thandysha is waiting impatiently, flanked by her eldest daughter Quarra, a very tall and heavily muscled imposing drow female. Very arrogant too. Next to her are Taldinyon – weapon master – and the house wizard K’yorl.

Above a basin of water, there is a beautiful statue of Spider Queen Lolth. When Lilith looks at it, she sees the image waver between the ageless beauty of Lolth and the horror of a drider. The cleric doesn’t have much time to wonder over this phenomenon, since the Matron Mother Thandysha speaks up.

House Xaniqos is moving up after the ‘acquisition’ of house Everhate with all remaining assets. I need every hand – even worthless ones like yours – to strengthen our new position as eighth House of Erelhei-Cinlu and take Xaniqos to a higher level.

We are lacking slaves and have problems at the rothé island. Furthermore we lost the Weapon Maker during the takeover. Go into the city and pick up the weapons we already paid for!

The two female and two male drow bow their heads and rush out the hall to do her bidding immediately. It is not healthy to make a Matron Mother wait.