The Despana Warehouse

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Phaedra rounds up her siblings. “I just returned from the Matron Mother. She wants us to free our Captain of the Guard immediately.” Alvra hurriedly searches for Leargath and finds him in a downstairs room. The half-demon looks up. “I hear you can use my services? Call me intrigued.” He takes his scythe. “And this, this needs to taste blood. Just make sure you stay out of my way.”

The five Xaniqos warriors make their way towards the warehouse, which is situated up against the great wall of Erelhei-Cinlu. Everyone gives them a wide berth because of the draegloth. He is very intimidating. According to their plan, the half-demon, Lilith, and Alvra will enter the warehouse through the front door, while Phaedra and Jharrath sneak inside.

When they arrive at the end of the street, they see that the warehouse has two wooden doors that open to the outside, but no windows. The cleric calls upon her deity to give them divine protection, extra strength for the fighter and herself and fortifies Alvra’s weapon. “Try to keep it quiet for now, or at least until we are inside.” The draegloth bares his teeth in a ferocious smile.

Cleric and fighter examine the entrance together. There seem to be no traps, but there is a wooden beam on the inside, barring the door. First Leargath tries to lift the bar through the slot of the door, but when that doesn’t work, the males decide to kick in the door. Their cooperation isn’t that successful though, so the half-demon tries on his own. He takes a couple of steps back and charges. The doors rattle but won’t budge. A second try only hurts his shoulder, so drow and half-demon go for it together once more. What they don’t know is that Jharrath casts one of his spells on the lock at the exact time they make contact. The doors fly open and Alvra and Leargath tumble inside.

Two drow guards – clearly not expecting this sudden entrance – attack Leargath. Seems like the wish of his scythe will be fulfilled. One of the guards tries a fire spell on the draegloth, but to no avail. Leargath now is getting in the mood, blood spraying his white mane. The screams are getting worse, only to end abruptly when the draegloth beheads his victim. One more left to play with.

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When Alvra checks out the warehouse, he sees a room in the corner, several crates, barrels, and a drow mage. He charges him and swings his sword. The weapon doesn’t meet with resistance though, and the image of the mage is gone. The fighter quickly looks around and sees the same man standing in the room, laughing, a multicolored aura around him. Suddenly an illithid materializes in front of the Xaniqos fighter! The creature walks towards Alvra, but the drow’s faith does not waver and he sees through the illusion. The illithid is gone, and so is the mage’s smirk.

Lilith calls down a flamestrike, engulfing the shield guardian construct in roaring fire, and prepares another spell. The golem is badly wounded but still tries to grapple Alvra. The fighter immediately counterattacks and manages to free himself. Waiting for the right moment, the Xaniqos cleric releases a darkbolt from her hand, and the jet-black flames bring the construct to the brink of destruction. Alvra’s sword finishes him off.

Phaedra, who has checked out the exterior of the warehouse, locates a hole in the wall and sees a stairway leading down. She reasons that that might be the place House Despana keeps their prisoners and calls out to Jharrath. No sense in keeping quiet with all the ruckus that is going on inside. The wizard casts a communication spell, including both his sisters. Getting her bearings, Phaedra walks back towards the entrance. She tumbles past the golem and ends at the top of the stairs.

The mage, heavily frustrated, casts protection on himself and, surrounded by a light blue globe, walks past Alvra and Phaedra unchallenged. His will is too strong for them to overcome and the Xaniqos cannot attack him directly. Seething with frustration, the siblings watch the Despana drow. The scout whispers ‘Going downstairs, can’t hit the mage,’ and both Jharrath and Lilith hear her words through the wizard’s spell.

The scout walks into the basement and passes a portcullis. Masses of pointed chains hang from the ceiling, blocking her view. She activates a special ability that, when triggered, will dazzle the mage, so she will no longer be visible to him. Phaedra walks to the end of the corridor and hears how the chains start to move. A humanoid appears, more chains wrapped around him. It seems like the chains respond to the creature, and suddenly four chains seem to grow longer and attack and hurt Phaedra.

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Alvra glances into the mage’s room and sees a desk and a bookcase. If he can’t attack the mage directly, he will try to intimidate the Despana brigand. He jumps behind him and roars “I’ll feed your balls to the rats!” As a result of this unconventional approach, the mage staggers on the stairs. The cleric, in pursuit of her sister, walks towards him. She is not impressed by the mage’s sanctuary spell and attacks him with her flail. The mage hastily retreats into the basement. Alvra searches the mage’s room. Apart from a desk and a bookcase, he discovers a big chest.

Jharrath uses his wand of magic missiles and hits the remaining arcane guard in the back, but soon realizes that the guard is no match for the half-demon. It won’t take long now. The wizard decides to go after the Despana mage. Alvra checks outside, but all seems quiet for now. “I’m going downstairs too, Leargath!”. A death gurgle announces the end of the second arcane guard.

Meanwhile, Phaedra is in combat with the kyton chain devil. She hits the creature again and again with her spiked chain, but the damage is less than expected. Then her own chain turns against her, clearly being controlled by the strange power of the chain devil, and wraps itself around her. The hooks of the chain bite into her flesh. Trying to free herself, she looks around and sees a torture device in an alcove.

The Xaniqos wizard walks through the chained corridor, peeks around the corner and recognizes the chain devil. He knows these creatures regenerate and have a high resistance to spells, so he summons a large earth elemental to fight for him instead. The elemental immediately attacks and hits the chain devil. With renewed energy, Phaedra manages to unwrap her chain, lashes out at the kyton devil and moves past their summoned ally.

Lilith and Alvra arrive downstairs too and run towards the corner to see what is happening. The fighter takes one of his javelins and aims at the chain devil. He throws so hard that the creature is impaled upon the wall. For a moment it hangs on but then it disappears back to the nine hells whence it came from.

Having lost his ally, the Despana mage wants to flee down the corridor, but Phaedra blocks his way. Jharrath quickly strips him of his protection spells and items, so the earth elemental can attack. In two mighty blows, the mage is dead.

Where is the Captain of the Guard?

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After the fight, the Xaniqos siblings return to their Matron Mother, who is waiting for them in the noble area of the arena. The atmosphere is splendid – contrary to that of House Despana. Lady Thandysha promises the fighters a great banquet in their honor, as their victory has increased the chance that their side of the bargain with the Spider Queen has been kept.

You are all expected at the mansion. But first, go and freshen up. Solafein will pick you up later and escort you home.

Lady Thandysha and her entourage disappear down the stairs, accompanied by K’yorl and Quarra, who animatedly talk about the fight.

The drow take an extensive bath in the bowels of the arena, while slaves bring tidbits to eat, clean their clothes and try to repair their drow equipment. When the Xaniqos are finally done, an attendant takes them back to the main quarters.

I hope you have enjoyed your time at the Arena. And I do hope to see you back again!

When Lilith inquires after his profits in the bets, his grin is significant. They wait for a while near the entrance but the hall stays empty: where is their Captain of the Guard? Where is Solaufein?

It is getting late, and after a brief consultation about their route home, Phaedra leads the way towards the Ghetto of Chatel of House Vae – the only ghetto in the immediate vicinity that is in favor of the Xaniqos. The Old Battle Axe is still busy, even at this time. The drow walk past. The women feel like many eyes are watching them, though the guys seem undisturbed. When they pass the troglodytes burrows, the creatures flee from the Xaniqos. Not too far though, for they can still see their eyes glistening from the shadows.

As the drow walk deeper into the district, the streets are more deserted. Lilith speeds up their pace and enters the Troll quarters. A duergar, accompanied by two goblinoid slaves, pushes a wheelcart. The Xaniqos cleric stops and watches them, while Phaedra observes a couple of troglodytes that rummage near a body on the ground. Next to them, a large troll lifts another humanoid body in the air and loots it, while another stares back at the drow.

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The scout runs forward and yells “Stop!”. The giant peals the armor off the body and strips the humanoid, not reacting to the shouted command. One of the troglodytes pokes the unmoving victim and takes a big bite.

Coming closer, Lilith recognizes the cloaks of the unmoving bodies. They are Xaniqos! She calls out in Draconic “Stop right now!”. The troglodytes take off in a hurry. One of the trolls bares its yellow teeth at the cleric and growls, while the other starts to walk away. The creatures are kind of shaggy and their claws are long and filthy. And that smell…

Phaedra shoots her crossbow at the departing giant to prevent him from moving further away. That finally seems to get its attention. She signs “Stop”. Now both trolls turn towards the advancing drow. Alvra takes an intimidating stance, sliding his sword from its scabbard, while the cleric comes closer to try and identify the body. A quick glance shows her that it is not Solafein. “Does any of you speak giant?” Phaedra’s question is met with silence. Behind the wizard, new faces appear in the shadows. The possibility of an oncoming fight draws a crowd. Then Jharrath calls out in Goblin. “Leave the bodies!”

As a reaction, the troll smashes the dangling body in its claws on top of Lilith. She barely manages to step aside, and the claws of the giant rake down her armor. The other troll attacks the two drow brothers. Alvra counters the attack with his sword, while Lilith casts a spell. Her size increases and her muscles bulge. She becomes as large as the trolls. Phaedra steps back and takes out her spiked chain.

A Kellgore’s firebolt sizzles into a troll. The other troll goes into a rage and attacks Alvra with its claws, tearing deep wounds in the fighter’s body. Almost at once a feeling of sickness comes over him. Alvra recovers and strikes the troll hard, but it’s a tough fellow. Lilith attacks with her momentarily enhanced flail and activates its special ability. The resulting fire leaves angry scorch marks on her opponent’s body. Enraged, it claws at the cleric and manages to hurt the female drow. The gashes are nasty and likely to get infected too. Scorching rays from the wizard’s wand and ferocious attacks with Phaedra’s spiked chain bring an end to one of the trolls. The drow combine their strength and go after the remaining creature and finally, Alvra manages to take it down. Jharrath grills both troll corpses with scorching rays, to make sure they don’t regenerate.

Lilith gathers her siblings in a healing circle and manages to nullify most of their wounds. When they search the lifeless bodies of the two Xaniqos guards, they find a drow bolt embedded in the neck of one, while the other is expertly stabbed to death. This has been no random robbery. They’ll have to investigate what happened here.

Phaedra searches the soft ground for tracks and discovers humanoid footprints and drag marks. Might this be Solaufein’s? At least one of the abductors is bleeding. When they follow the tracks, the scout walking ahead, the trail leads them back towards the Concours in the middle of Erelhei-Cinlu, and then further on into the Ghetto of Performers. House Aleval! When Phaedra rounds a corner, she is met by two drow, dressed in black from head to toe. Their cloaks, black with a purple border, reveal them as Sharran.

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Spymaster Kyrl Orl sends his regards and a warning. Your search must stop here, or you will be caught and die a horrible death. We’ve been following you for a while. Around the corner are two assassins waiting in ambush.

Do they have our Captain of the Guard? We suspect he was taken into this district.

Yes, they do. He is taken by the Riskallus Agency, one of the best assassin agencies in the ghetto.

I thank you for your warning, even though it is hard to imagine your warning being free. How do we contact you?

One of them hands her a scroll.

Don’t worry, we will find you. May Shar be with you.

Phaedra walks back to her siblings and tells them about the two drow in black, sent by the Spymaster. There is nothing they can do at the moment, so the Xaniqos walk home in silence, lost in their thoughts.

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.

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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.

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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.

Back home

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After weeks of traveling, the walls of Erelhei-Cinlu, skilfully lighted with the purple glow of fungi, are a welcome sight. Eager to get home and leave the hardships of their travels behind, they stride towards the bridge.

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The streets are filled with Tormtor drow. At the gate, they are welcomed -or more accurate- halted by a cleric of House Despana. Marcella Despana seems shocked to see the Xaniqos alive and well, tries to hide her astonishment behind a sneering smile and says:

Look who we have here. I’m amazed you dare to show your face after all the other parties have been butchered!

What are you implying, Marcella? How dare you blame us for the incompetence of your own soldiers. Move!

Lilith furiously retorts. She pushes her way forward, and grudgingly the Despana priestess steps aside.

There are exceedingly many patrols in the city and as they work their way towards the Xaniqos estate, again they are halted. This time it is a captain of their own house, though unfamiliar.

Impostors!

is his reaction when they tell him they are the lost searching party of House Xaniqos. Phaedra whacks the soldier over the head because of this impertinence.

What is your name, male?

Ninfór, Mistress.

Well, Ninfór, I am Lilith, high priestess of House Xaniqos, and I am ordering you to get out of the way!

If looks could kill, the drow would have turned to ashes. The captain reassesses the situation, and now notices the battle scars and the travel dust. His tone of voice changes into one of respect.

May we accompany you, Mistress Lilith?

Yes, but keep your distance.

The Xaniqos cleric’s patience is wearing very thin. They walk in silence for a while, when the captain respectfully coughs.

Now what?!

Pardon me, but you are walking the wrong way, Mistress. The noble estates have all been abandoned because of what has happened. Every house is on edge. The Matron Mother decided to move back to our District.

The siblings continue into the district under Xaniqos command: the District of the Outcasts. They walk past groups of foreigners and beggars and pass various inns. Finally, they arrive at a grand and beautiful estate of two stories high. The drow who are guarding the entrance to the courtyard, are also strangers. A lot has changed during the month they were gone. Lots of new blood; House Xaniqos must be doing well.

In the courtyard, the familiar statue of Lolth is going through its never-ending cycle of transition from drow to spider and back. One of the guards leads them up a big staircase and asks them to wait. A couple of minutes later their House wizard descends, a glimpse of a smile on his face. He must be really pleased to see them!

K’yorl, it is good to finally see a familiar face!

And I am glad to see you all in good health, mistress Lilith. It has been a while. Lady Thandysha will be back later tonight. Do you want to freshen up in the meantime, eat and rest?

When Lilith inquires after the new recruits, the wizard explains that House Xaniqos has expanded, taking over several smaller houses that owed them allegiance, bolstering their ranks.

Kyorl

Servants escort the siblings to separate bathhouses. Somewhat later they reappear, dressed in soft house robes. Laergath is nowhere to be seen. In the kitchen, all thoughts of travel rations disappear with a second serving. After dinner, the cleric asks a servant to take care of her armor and then proceeds to the chapel, where she prays to Lolth. Upstairs, Jharrath inspects his room, which is next to the room of Alvra. All of their equipment and furniture seems to be intact.

At the end of the day, the long-awaited call comes. The four adventurers are expected in the reception room. The Matron Mother is sitting on a small platform at the head of the table, two minotaurs as her bodyguard. Lilith takes a seat next to her mother, flanked by Phaedra.

It is good to be back, Mother.

And it is good to see you again, I hope you have good news!

the lady Thandysha replies in private. Then a new voice joins their conversation.

Ah Lilith, there you are. Welcome back. I am very curious to hear why you have been gone so long!

Quarra -the only one in battle armor and flail in hand- takes the opposite seat. K’yorl, Alvra and Jharrath also join them.

Welcome, everyone.

The authoritarian voice of Lady Thandysha booms through the throne room.

Now tell us all about what happened to you these last few weeks.

Lilith starts with the bad news: they haven’t been able to retrieve the rod Dark Fate. Quarra snorts, but Lilith ignores her and continues with her story. The betrayal of Amalika, the discovery of the killers of House Tormtor and their punishment, the Hidden Dell, and the blaspheming drow in Sith Morcane. The Matron Mother is not happy to hear that the rod has not been found.

House Despana is acting very arrogant towards House Xaniqos. After finding the bodies of the large search party of house Tormtor, a few claim that House Xaniqos has been involved in the murder.
Many council members distrust each other, worrying the other house might have acquired the rod for personal gain. There have not been direct accusations yet, but several imply House Xaniqos is to blame. We have to think well about our next step.
Thank you, Lilith. Notwithstanding your failure, you managed to return. A feat that the other houses did not accomplish. And though you did not find the rod, you again managed to deliver a blow to House Shi’quos.

The cleric nods at Phaedra, Alvra and Jharrath.

Well, I could have had worse travel companions.

Quarra, realizing that things have taken a positive turn for her sister and her party yet again, seethes with anger. With clenched teeth she says:

I am glad you made it back to further enhance the glory of House Xaniqos.

With a straight face, Lilith asks Quarra if she can think of more ideas that can help their House, but the elder sister has to ponder on that.

Lady Thandysha ends the dinner gathering:

Take a reverie and return to me in a couple of days. Make sure you wear your armor. I’ll send for you once I have taken your news into consideration. I will call for a council meeting. You may go out in the city, but don’t go out alone. Be careful. The rod was not where it was supposed to be. Somebody else took it, or it was never there!

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.

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.

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.

150526Naga

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.

150527fireball

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…