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.

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.

Erelhei-Cinly

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.

druid

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.

150527earthnode

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…

Inside the tower

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Situated in a remote part of the isle, the illithid’s tower soars 150 feet in the air. Though high, it is not particularly pretty. The windows, which are at least forty feet up, are made of dark glass. The structure emanates a forbidden atmosphere; it is clear that the illithid does not want to be disturbed. A group of Shi’quos guards passes, and though they seem somewhat curious, they continue on their path.

tower

Jharrath circles the structure and then decides on a part near the back of the tower, away from curious eyes. He focuses and releases his spell at the tower’s stones. A section of the wall suddenly seems to disappear, big enough to let one person pass. Darkness greets them.

Lilith, empowered by her faith in the Spider Queen, casts a blessing on her siblings and herself. A sea-blue nimbus of light blossoms momentarily about their heads and shoulders, strengthening their resolve. The wizard complements this with a mage armor spell.

Javelin in hand, Alvra cautiously enters the tower. It is dark, moist and quiet inside, and the ceiling looms twenty feet over them. The drow follow the wall and see a winding stair at the end of the corridor. Halfway through, Phaedra feels a pressure on her head, as do the wizard and cleric, but they manage to shake off the effect. Apart from a strange feeling of temporary disorientation, they’re fine.

Alvra on the other hand, suddenly finds himself in another room. The others are nowhere to be seen. Long silver strands adorn the ceiling in a web-like construction, the walls covered in arcane symbols. When he feels the urge to walk down the stairs, he resists and stops at the top, listening carefully.

With his brother missing, the wizard deploys his wand of detect magic and senses a large pulse of magic, high up in the tower. He also discovers several weaker, moving auras. The Xaniqos climb the first flight of stairs, which opens up in a big room. There they are greeted by an umber hulk.

150524umberhulk

The scout takes out her spiked chain and climbs the wall of the staircase, while Jharrath hurriedly summons three elementals. Just when the earth creatures engage the umber hulk in a melee fight, a second insect rushes at the cleric. Its massive claw tears at Lilith’s armor, and the force of the hit rebounds through the tower.

Alvra – alerted – descends towards the sounds of battle, while Phaedra arrives at the next floor. Furniture, wood, clothes, shelves, a dissected carcass of a griffin, arcane diagrams, scrolls and many other things. A large map with markings covers the wall of the room.

That is Erelhei-Cinlu, and I suspect the markings locate nodes.

the wizard says, his eyes gleaming.

Rushing up the stairs, the cleric glances into the room, and then continues upwards, together with her sister. They arrive at yet another landing of a round room. In the middle is a bronze statue, ten by fifteen feet. It has an abstract form with protrusive points. Behind the statue, a black portal opens, and a big nasty octopus head appears. They have found the mind flayer. Or more accurate, it has found them!

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.