click for a larger image
source: d20monkey by Brian Patterson, 2014
click for a larger image
source: d20monkey by Brian Patterson, 2014
Back at the Xaniqos mansion, they quickly pack and set out on their second task: collecting blood moss. According to the map, there are three options for their travels: follow the inner sea, travel through the swamps or take the broader but longer trading route. They decide on the latter.
As always, Phaedra scouts ahead. Their trek through Erelhei-Cinlu isn’t very eventful, and Phaedra finds them a fine route in between the Upper and Middle Underdark. They pass many caves and spend the night in an uninhabited one. Lilith takes first watch and her sister the second, but nothing happens.
On the second day, the scout spots two very big humanoids in the distance, who move awkwardly. When she focuses, she sees that the figures are twice the size of a drow, and are covered in spines. She returns to the others, and the cleric decides to move back to a side corridor they passed earlier. No use in engaging in a confrontation if it is not necessary. Alvra casts darkness in the corridor to hide them. Soon they hear heavy footsteps passing, and the jingle of armor.
Phaedra waits until the sounds fade completely and sets out in the direction of their goal. They arrive at a wide high cave, illuminated by the fungi. The ground stretches before them, soft and packed with dense moss. Jharrath informs them that they probably should find a smaller cave for locating the blood moss.
They follow airborne spores towards their origin and find the entrance to a cave complex. The ground turns wetter and kind of oozy. “We’re getting closer,” the wizard whispers. The entrance is about 5 feet wide. When Phaedra passes, she notices that mushrooms react to her presence by releasing even more spores. She treads carefully. Soon the cave becomes wider, and there’s a path winding through. The vegetation is becoming wilder, with jelly and spores. The scout steps into a puddle of green gunk, that quickly changes into a gelatinous cube. It tries to trap her, but her quick reflexes save her.
Lilith walks past the stuff, deeper into the cave, keeping her distance from the green ooze. Jharrath takes out a candle and summons an earth elemental. The stone beast pummels the jelly. The acid splashes but doesn’t harm the elemental. Phaedra knows her weapons are vulnerable to the acid, so she tumbles back and looks around, searching for blood moss. She moves on towards the next cave. Alvra stays in the original corridor and keeps checking the main hall.
The cube reaches for the cleric, and quickly she jumps aside. Lilith calls forth a darkbolt, but it fizzles out. Again the ooze reaches for her, but the earth elemental pummels the creature until once again it is a harmless looking puddle. Jharrath signals “It might be dead, but I can’t be sure.” He orders the elemental to step on the ooze. Nothing happens; it is indeed beaten.
Phaedra turns another corner. Fungi grow thick and high on the walls, and some kind of path meanders through the space. There’s a heap of rotting vegetation in the middle. And it moves! Jharrath steps forward to stand next to Phaedra, and they are joined by the elemental. the wizard recognizes the mound with vegetation arms: a huge shambling mound, fungi colored.
It is intelligent, carnivorous and predatory. Two huge, armlike appendages stretch towards Phaedra, wrap around her and slam her against the ground. Then they grapple her and pull her towards the mound. Lilith moves forward and shoots searing lights into the beast. It won’t release her sister though. Phaedra can’t get loose but keeps attacking the tentacles. Jharrath moves out of the earth elemental’s way and fires his wand of scorching rays at the huge plant. The shambling mound slowly squeezes the life out of Phaedra, so Lilith steps closer and heals her sister. Working together, Jharrath, the elemental and the scout attack the same tentacle. It unwraps itself, too damaged to hold on, but the other appendage is still squeezing. Again Lilith casts a healing spell, now affecting her whole party positively. Finally, after a charge from Alvra, more searing lights of the cleric, and a new elemental attacking, Phaedra can tumble away from the monstrous plant. Pummeled by the elemental, burned by Jharrath scorching rays and an attack by Alvra’s sword, the beast finally lies down and dies. Lilith again has to heal Alvra, who is badly wounded by the fight, plus hands him a very strong healing potion.
Lilith buffs her siblings with a strong conviction spell, which should raise their resilience. Behind the remains of the shambling mound, they see red fungi. It looks like the blood moss they are after, but it is not dense enough. Mist wafts on the underground current, phosphorescent fungi and red moss is all around. Phaedra again takes the lead.
At the side of the room, huge mushrooms grow from the wall. There is moss in every color. The smell of lemon, bread, and decay is heavy on the air. Then another cave opens, with at the far end a thick blanket of blood moss. The room seems poisonous. There are a lot of spores afloat in the air. And when the spores almost settle on the ground, another gust of wind blows them into the air once more.
The drow halt at the entrance of the blood moss cave. The earth elemental is unaffected by the floating spores and walks in. Suddenly tentacles shoot from a heap of leaves. Another shambling mound, though this one is slightly smaller and doesn’t have a fungi color. The elemental gets into a fight with the plant and, aided by the drow, kills it. Quickly Jharrath summons more elementals and places them at strategic points throughout the room. At the back, a third mound appears and captures one of the elementals. Lilith and Phaedra take out their crossbows and shoot at the plant.
Yet another creature appears at the back of the room: a huge glistening treelike creature, oozing acid. Phaedra doesn’t recognize it, beyond that it seems to be a sentient being.
The creature attacks the elementals, and Lilith immediately counters with a flame strike. A column of fire roars down on top of the ent, and one of Alvra’s javelins scores a hit. The creature roars and releases a 60 feet cone of spores, enveloping the cleric, wounding her severely. She retreats to heal herself, while her siblings keep up the fight with crossbow, spiked chain, javelin, sword and kellgore’s fire bolts. When she is recovered enough, the cleric calls down another flame strike on the treant. She then attacks the respawning shambling mound with her flail and does extra fire damage. Three more summoned earth elementals kill the vegetation.
Alvra is under attack and becomes engulfed in the tree-like being, the roots dealing acid damage. Lilith attacks the ent with her flail and the added fire damage sets the ent ablaze, which ends its life. An almost respawning shambling mound withers and dies.
In the treant’s carcass, they find a drow mission blade, that has protection against acid.
Lilith and Alvra leave the spores zone, where Lilith does a full heal on Alvra. Jharrath, Alvra, and Phaedra shovel the blood moss in a bag. They search the remains of the shambling mounds and find a collection of gold and gems – obviously of no use to these creatures.
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.”
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:
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.
“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.
After seeing this, the threat of a beholder will never be the same. * grins *
While the cleric is concentrating on her spell, the babau secretly makes its way towards Lilith and slashes her neck with one of his stinking claws. Alvra, seeing his mistress bloodied, turns around and beheads the tanar’ri with a powerful swing of his sword.
Lilith walks over to the altar and finds Solaufein on the brink of death. Casting a full healing spell on the captain, she manages to bring him back. The information and testimony he can give might be crucial. They need to know the secrets he has yielded to House Despana. She unties Solaufein. Though his body is healed, his dazed mind will need time to recover.
The vrock keeps following the wizard and reaches for Jharrath with its beak. At that moment Leargath manages to get through its defenses and wounds the monster with his scimitar, while Jharrath retreats in full haste back towards the circle. Where the wizard can take the narrow tunnels, the vrock is forced to follow the main corridor, so Jharrath casts caustic smoke near the entrance from that side. Alvra and Leargath position themselves near the two other entrances, while the wizard walks toward the south room.
To their surprise, not one but four vrocks enter the center room. Lilith casts a dispelling screen on them, but the spell is too high to nullify. Alvra and Leargath attack the creatures with their weapons and manage to get rid of the mirror images. Aided by the cleric, the three of them fight in melee, until a swing with the cleric’s flail sends the vrock back to where it came from.
Solaufein, who is slowly coming to his senses, tells Alvra that the dungeon is a place where House Despana worships demons. They tortured him and asked him for information about the rod Dark Fate.
It was also meant as a punishment for your victory in the arena, Alvra. The warlock was the one ordering the demons, though these were not allowed to go near his room in the south.
In the other room, the knock-out potion loses its potency and the Despana warlock slowly gets up. He flees to a corridor in the back, with Phaedra in pursuit. She yells:
Don’t kill the mage!
and charges him, trying to knock him down again. Her strike is well aimed. The warlock is badly hurt but not quite dead. The Despana dark elf is getting tired of the unrelenting scout and takes a healing potion while leaning against the wall. His ebony color returns and he scowls at Phaedra. Then Jharrath enters and aims a hail of stones at the warlock. The Despana looks mangled. He focusses on Phaedra and releases an Eldritch blast.
The energy strikes the scout, but she immediately counterattacks and lashes out again. Her strike renders him unconscious once more. Phaedra binds and gags the warlock, and strips him of his possessions. On him, she finds a mithral shirt, a magic belt, the wand of fireballs and a magic ring with three gems: two still active and one spent. The scout follows the corridor where the mage tried to flee to and arrives at a hole in the ground. Apparently, this is the place where the Despana dumps the bodies of their victims.
When she returns to the south room, she finds Jharrath studying the arcane mage symbols on a door that is a few steps down.
This sealed door can only be opened in a magical way. And I don’t have the right spells for it. Perhaps…
Phaedra shows him what she found on the warlock’s body, and Jharrath recognizes the ring as a ring of spell storing. One gem is able to hold a portal, the other has a knock spell. He puts the ring on his finger and feels he now has access to the room.
The Xaniqos siblings gather in the chamber to decide what they will do next, while Leargath goes up into the warehouse to keep watch. Lilith orders her wizard brother to open the sealed door, and then drags the warlock back to the room with the pentagram circle. He is still out cold. Jharrath activates the ring’s knock spell and renders the arcane seal inactive.
Phaedra quickly opens the door and takes a peek. Inside it smells like a tomb. In the middle is an open sarcophagus with humanoid bones and a decayed armor. They seem to have belonged to a fighter. At the back of the chamber is a marble statue, and on it an upright hand. The wizard enters the room and circles the sarcophagus. A green mist rises, changing into a female elven warrior. Her face expresses utter hate for all that is living, malicious. By now the room is illuminated with a purple light that swirls around and in the hand of the statue. Phaedra and Jharrath both run from the room and try to lock the door again, but the female drow warrior escapes.
Since the spirit doesn’t attack yet, Lilith asks who she is.
My name is Qu’Chwuvain. I have been slain and they locked me up in here. What year is it? Where am I?
You are in the city of Erelhei-Cinlu.
I am from Menzoberranzan, and was a famous warrior there. Where is the mage that kept me imprisoned?
Qu’Chwuvain works herself into a frenzy, so the cleric shows her to the next room, where the mage lies bound.
Here he is, but we still need information from him!
Lilith’s words fall on deaf ears though. They have hardly left her mouth, when the spirit swoops down on the mage, pulls a spectral sword and sticks it in the warlock, over and over again. She screams and keeps on screaming until the warlock is dead, so full of anger, hate and frustration, that Phaedra runs away in fear.
Since he was an enemy of yours, I thank you. But do not cross my path again. Now take me out of here!
Jharrath points towards the exit and tells her that the draegloth is an ally, while Lilith gets her sister back and leads her away from the mage room. She then takes the wizard to the sarcophagus.
Look at that hand, Jharrath. It is getting more real!
The Xaniqos wizard takes out his wand and detects magic, originating in strong waves from the statue. A voice in his head urges him to step closer, to come and touch it, but he resists and steps back. Phaedra is also under the influence of the hand and wants to go back into the chamber. The voice whispers:
Come and touch me. I promise to bring fame and fortune to your House. With me you will rise and flourish. Come and touch me!
Phaedra desperately tries to reach the room, but with a combined effort Alvra and Lilith stop her and drag her out of harm’s way. Jharrath casts black tentacles in front of the door and they run out. Once they are past the pentagram, the evil voice of the hand gets softer, then fades.
The siblings go outside, where they meet Leargath.
What did you unleash?
Ah, just a pissed off ghost, searching for the warlock that entombed her. And that mage now is dead. By the way, could you carry him?
She points at Solaufein. The draegloth grumbles, but gives in to the cleric’s order and walks out, together with the Xaniqos siblings and the Captain of the Guard. Somewhat later they arrive at their house, fatigued and wounded, but safe.
The Xaniqos fighter charges the vrock that Lilith is in combat with. He hits the demon repeatedly, after which the vrock releases spores, that bite into Alvra’s skin. Then it counterattacks with claw, beak, and talons! The drow is glad for the cleric’s protection earlier on. Lilith walks towards the monster and her touch attack leaves marks of negative energy. The creature screeches with pain. The fight rages back and forth, both sides evenly vicious in the battle, seemingly oblivious to the pain being dealt to them. Alvra is bleeding from many wounds, scratches and bite marks all over his body. When fungus starts to grow in his wounds and he feels very sick and weak, he retreats to take a potion.
The earth elemental fights valiantly, but the combined attacks of the other vrock and the mage send it back to its own plane. The demon looks up, in search of his next victim. Slowly he makes his way towards the entrance of the dungeon, where Jharrath is waiting.
Phaedra tumbles past the mage while staying clear of the circle. She lands in front of another room. Masses of blood and remains are strewn around the side chamber, the smell is awful. Behind her back, the second babau sneaks closer. Phaedra puts away her spiked chain and knocks an arrow on her short bow. When the small demon springs to attack her, she fluently steps back.
What a fine mess did you get yourself into now?
Jharrath hears breathing in his ears and smells wet dog. Leargath is back! Haughtily he replies:
I was just about to help.
He and his mirror images teleport to the circle. The device with the levers is still there, but the creature handling it is gone. Jharrath pulls several levers to try and open the portcullis for the draegloth, but he only succeeds in opening two others.
The mage takes a wand ending in a red flame, and shoots a fireball against the wall above the summoning circle. Debris rains down, but the Xaniqos are not hurt by it – including the drow on the altar, who is indeed their lost Captain of the Guard!
The enemy mage orders the vrock near the portcullis to return to the fight, and then hits Phaedra with his purple energy beam. The Xaniqos wizard recognizes this ability as a warlock’s. The enemy drow chants an invocation to destroy their potions, but fails in doing so. Then Phaedra’s arrow finds its mark, and the warlock slowly topples backward. The knock-out potion she used on her weapon worked really well.
At the same moment, Lilith inflicts critical wounds on the vrock and sends it back to the demon plane. Quickly she checks on Alvra. The potion seems to have done its job, and she casts a strong healing spell to help him recover: she needs the fighter on his feet. She then heals herself. Alvra thanks his mistress and then walks back to help Leargath. Together they lift the heavy portcullis, their muscles trembling. The powerful drow gathers his strength and manages to hold up the gate on his own for an instant. But that is enough for the draegloth, and two seconds later, he is standing next to Alvra.
The remaining vrock attacks Jharrath several times, and one by one the mirror images disappear. The wizard steps away and recasts the spell. Now there are eight wizards facing the demon. He walks backwards into a corridor and calls forth a new earth elemental, that fights the vrock for him. Jharrath then casts a spell and incendiary slime covers part of the floor.
Phaedra repeatedly jumps away from the babau, but the tanar’ri is persistent. The scout disappears in a blinding flash, dazzling the monster. That doesn’t last long though. Again he looks for her and overcomes her invisibility. She tumbles away once more, puts her bow away and takes out her spiked chain. The babau, upset with the nimble evasive scout, makes himself invisible and searches for a new victim.
The Xaniqos fighter and draegloth walk towards the summoning circle, where the vrock and the earth elemental are in close combat.
What are your wishes, Mistress?
Kill that big demon, Leargath, and if possible, do not destroy the elemental in the proces.
Lilith then casts faerie fire on their opponent and outlines his body in sparkling light. Both Alvra and Leargath attack the vrock, but they can’t seem to damage it with their weapons. The demon flutters over the green incendiary grease by flapping its wings and menacingly approaches the mage. The cleric casts a mighty dispelling spell, but the demon stays right where it is. Again under attack, the last of Jharrath’s mirror images disappears and he teleports to safety.
While Leargath is busy killing the last Despana guard upstairs, the others slowly make their way deeper into the dark passage. Phaedra, who is scouting ahead, catches a glimpse of a monster with leathery skin and red eyes. She is just about to warn the others when a scream of pain shatters the silence. Someone else is chanting, his voice rising and falling with the spell. Lilith quickly gathers her siblings in a close circle and uses a couple of spells to strengthen their party. Then the siblings follow their scout, chains softly moving against their bodies like a metal curtain.
In the distance, a purple glow lifts the darkness and a smell of decay is heavy in the air. When they turn the corner, they see a glowing summoning circle. In the middle, someone is thrashing on an altar, clearly in pain, while an arcane drow is pulling energy from his victim. Smears of blood surround the frightful scene.
Our DM used this drawing of dark cells (by Alex J. Moore) to visualize the dungeon.
The Xaniqos wizard summons an elemental to help them, but almost loses his concentration when a claw reaches for him from the dark. Almost. 😉 The earth elemental attacks the mage in the starred circle. The drow nimbly evades, chanting:
By the eight names of Lolth, I invoke thee.
By the eight dooms of the spider queen, I summon thee.
Fill my empty vessel with your profane might, your limitless power, and your inexhaustible wisdom.
With those final words, the mage draws upon the essence of a demon. His appearance changes. His body grows feathers, his head becomes a beak and he develops half wings. He turns towards the elemental and purple light shoots from his arms. The sonic force blasts right through the elemental, dealing much damage.
Calling out to the Spider Queen, Lilith creates a shimmering, magical field around her sister, brothers and herself. In the distance, they hear heavy chains rattling. Somewhere near more gates are opening!
Jharrath finds himself face to face with another demon. The tanar’ri is bent, horned, with a big mouth and claws. Acid gelly coats its slimy skin and half of its head is filled with teeth. They have found the source of the horrid smell: a babau!
Phaedra steps forward from under the portcullis and attacks the babau with her spiked weapon. She hits the demon, but the chain gets stuck in the skin. It sizzles but stays whole. She is aided by her fighter brother, who attacks the beast from the other side, but the two-handed sword attack does less damage than Alvra expected. Back in the corridor, the Xaniqos wizard casts a spell on the tanar’ri and the creature is sent back to its plane, growling, hissing and seething with rage.
There is no shortage of opponents though: two vrocks step into view near the circle, most likely as a result of the opened cages. The birdlike demons attack the elemental, but it defends itself well.
When Phaedra moves forward, she notices a device with multiple handles to the side on her left. A second babau, which is -she presumes- responsible for freeing the vrocks, is standing near it. The scout takes out her spiked chain and attacks one of the vrocks. Focusing divine power like a ray of the sun, Lilith also walks towards the circle, projecting a blast of searing light from her open palm that slams straight into the other vrock.
From the corner of her eyes, Phaedra sees the tanar’ri pull a lever, and with a loud clang the portcullis which they just passed, comes down. Alvra dives forward to be in the same corridor as his mistress, but Jharrath is trapped behind the iron gate! Quickly he casts a spell, and five more duplicate Jharrath’s appear.