Xaniqos versus Despana

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After their victory, the Xaniqos drow are escorted into the catacombs of the arena. Not only a cleric of the temple of Lolth is waiting for them to administer healing, but also the Xaniqos entourage. Hurriedly they freshen up while listening to their advice.

“You gave a good performance, Alvra, and your resilience is also fine. I miss a bit of finesse here and there, but overall, your showmanship makes up for it. And as long as you’re the victor… By the way, try to evade at least some hits.” Next, Taldinyon turns to his daughter. “Phaedra, you also are doing a good job. Evade is the keyword for your fighting style. Don’t let them hit you!” On the other side of the room, K’yorl tells Jharrath: “I am satisfied with your performance, but I haven’t seen much, apart from the fireball. But it is a wise choice to spare your magic.” And even Quarra is enthusiastic, for the House.

“The next challenge will be to defeat a promising group of House Despana. These students have just finished their training and, just like you, have been gaining experience outside the city. Their leader is a wizard, specialized in the evocation art. Among the others is also a cleric. Watch out for their summoning, and for demonic rituals. Make sure you win, take them down! And a little bit of humiliation on their side would be great.” With these words, the weaponmaster leaves them to prepare themselves.

Lilith gathers her brothers and sister in a circle and casts several spells to strengthen them —both in body and spirit— for the upcoming fight.

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Both parties are escorted into the arena. “Take up your positions. The fight will continue until one of the groups or one member surrenders. Or is killed. We look forward to a great performance; show us who is the best!”

Before the other team can do anything, the Xaniqos wizard takes a piece of tentacle from his pouch and casts a holding spell, causing black tentacles to rise up in the middle of the Despana group. The rubbery arms try to grapple, slow them down. As Alvra steps forward, he incidentally activates a trap. Vicious scythes slash through the air where a second earlier the Xaniqos fighter had been standing. Landing safely behind a wall, he turns the incident into a show. The crowd loves him.

The scout, who was observing their adversaries from atop another wall, calls out that the fighter and cleric of the other party are stuck, jumps into the air and lands gracefully on the ground. She grabs her short bow and shoots an arrow at the enemy fighter. The male drow instantly falls smack down on his face, overcome by the knock-down poison. There’s a loud “Wooooow” of appreciation for Phaedra from the tribunes.

Jharrath summons three medium sizes earth elementals, that promptly fall into a trap. Fortunately, they succeed in climbing out. With javelin and his two-handed sword, Alvra attacks in melee, aided by the elementals.

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The enemy wizard uses a dimensional door to escape the tentacles and appears behind a woodblock. Ominous darkfire shoots from Lilith’s hands, counterattacked by an enemy ice storm – the Xaniqos wizard and cleric are unaffected though. The battle rages on until another streak of darkfire hits the Despana leader. Severely hurt, he asks his group to surrender. A loud booing erupts from the spectators, and in the noble lounge, Sheihirae is furious. Unladylike, the Despana Matron Mother snorts her contempt, a crack showing in her stern composure. She signals to Thimeta to end the match. Down at the field, the Xaniqos cleric again bows to her mother. Lady Thandysha smirks in triumph.

When Phaedra, Jharrath, Alvra and Lilith enter the noble lounge, they are greeted with enthusiasm. K’yorl now shows outright respect for Jharrath and Quarra nods towards her sister. She has not much to say. The praise of the Matron Mother of House Despana is somewhat restrained. “Congratulations on your second victory. It is not our day. You are deserving of a better match.” Sheihirae consults with Thimeta, while the siblings have a bite to eat and take a short rest.

All seats in the arena are occupied by the time the third and last round starts. Again Lilith buffs her companions with strong spells. To top it off, she casts an armor of darkness on her fighter brother and peps up her own strength.

Not much has been changed in the setup of the fighting grounds, but the Xaniqos now stand on the other side. Suddenly a loud roar shatters the expectant silence and with a lot of noise, the gates on the opposite side are lifted clear off their hinges. An enormous beast steps forward, big horns curling from its head. It seems like House Despana has summoned a demon to fight for them!

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Again the ghour roars. Apparently, it is anticipating the exercise. Being immune to cold, fire, poison and lightning, the demon will be hard to fight, and the Xaniqos have a real challenge to deal with.

Jharrath calls forth the largest elemental yet summoned. It lumbers towards the ghour and hits, hard. The first punch seems to hurt the demon, but it easily shakes off the second attack. Phaedra’s charge attack with her spiked chain also is not very effective, but she keeps it up, as she doesn’t have anything else to hurt it with. A javelin streaks towards the demon, but the creature brushes it aside. Alvra had already anticipated this, but he needed to be sure of the effect –or lack of– of his attack.

Stamping its hoofs, the ghour breaks the cleric’s concentration, and her flame strike sizzles out. When the beast charges with its head down, attacking with both horns and two aggressive legs, Lilith’s searing lights spell also fails.

The wizard summons another large earth elemental. Both creatures throw themselves into the fight and engage the demon. Lilith calls forth a blade barrier around one of the elementals, to enhance the havoc it wreaks upon the demon. She then casts a spell on Alvra’s weapon: the sword becomes extra shiny!

Her attempt at attacking with a slashing darkness spell, fails though. The wizard uses his wand of magic missiles, while Alvra and Phaedra keep attacking, making sure they stay out of reach. Only their best hits do any damage, while the ghour has no problem wounding the drow.

Frustrated, the cleric grits her teeth and concentrates with all her might. Focusing divine power like a ray of the sun, Lilith projects a blast of pure light from her open palm. And her attack is extremely effective, because, with a loud roar of defeat, the demon disappears back to its plane. Again the Xaniqos are victorious!

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The crowd goes absolutely berserk, and under a massive applause, the drow are escorted from the arena.

The Arena

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“It is time.” Lilith takes her sister and brothers across the street. It has become quite busy with slaves, drow, and nobles. From afar they hear the cheering and screaming of the crowd.

At the entrance, they are stopped by a bugbear.
“Guests or players?”
“We come to participate in the fights.”
“Please follow me.”
The bugbear leads them towards a side entrance, where more warriors are waiting.
“You can sign up here.”

Behind the desk is a drow male, who is very interested in the Xaniqos.
“How are the opponents chosen?” Phaedra asks him.
“The rules are simple: you sign up as a team and fight three bouts. Everything has to happen inside the arena. No matter what happens, do not leave it. And if you survive, you have won.” He adds: “You are among the prime of the day.”
“Can we watch the other fights?”
The drow directs them towards a passageway.
“Lady Thandysha has one of the best spots. But be back in two hours!”

The huge arena is filled to the brim with almost a thousand spectators. Most are drow. The siblings are escorted to the noble area, where their mother is surrounded by a large entourage. A very large woman, broad and strong, is observing them. She is introduced as Thimeta Despana, the combat instructor of House Despana. Her armor is as black as night, marking her as a blackguard as well as a fighter.

The Matron Mother of House Despana, lady Sheihirae, is older than lady Thandysha. “Ah, so these are the chosen ones, Thandysha. You show courage to put four family members out in the arena. I have several enthusiastic warriors, waiting to take up arms against them. May the best team win.”
“Good luck, for the House!” Lady Thandysha nods encouragingly.

The arena is prepared for the tournament. It is a varied terrain, with hills and walls.
“Mistress Thimeta, does the outlay change with every round?”
“Indeed, Alvra, each fight will be a new challenge, in an ever-changing arena.”

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“Let the tournament begin!”

Upon lady Sheihirae’s words, an expectant hush settles over the arena. The first gate opens and four warriors of House Despana enter. The crowd cheers. On the opposite side, one of the Fey folk and two svirfneblins step onto the sand. Where the drow tread slowly and carefully, the deep gnomes rush forward – straight into a trap. It soon becomes a massacre.

The Xaniqos are called to their quarters. Underneath his cloak, Alvra wears a new black breastplate, studded with sharp points. Soon a lower drow escorts them to the middle of the arena. The fighting area has been hastily raked to absorb the blood of the unfortunate victims who came before them. “Stop right here.” On the other side, a huge quaggoth enters, carrying a great ax. Five more follow.

Both Matron Mothers rise, and lady Thandysha announces her children. “Today, House Xaniqos will show its strength. Our brave drow will fight against these savage beasts.”

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With a loud roar, the quaggoth leader charges at full speed. Suddenly the earth beneath his feet disappears, but he jumps aside. As Phaedra searches for traps, the wizard moves sideways and starts casting, a piece of bat guano in his hand. A bright fireball speeds towards the quaggoths and the stench of burned hair and flesh spread throughout the arena. The crowd stamp their feet to show their appreciation.

Then the fight starts in earnest. Alvra moves to get a clear line of sight and throws one of his javelins. Phaedra at first shoots bolts, but soon engages in a melee fight, her spiked chain tearing through the tough hide of their enemies. Three small earth elementals join in and engage the raging quaggoths, while magic missiles find their target. After several attacks, the Xaniqos cleric takes out the leader with her flail, the sparks of her added fire slowly winking out. Alvra’s sword whistles through flesh and bone.

Within minutes, all quaggoths are dead. Lilith bows to her Matron Mother. Two more rounds to go.

Battle Axe Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Szith Morcane

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Wary of the shadow spider, the Xaniqos continue their way over the unstable spider strands. Phaedra carefully picks a route through the sticky maze, while the others follow in her footsteps. When she hears unfamiliar voices, the scout urges the others to stay quiet. Lilith takes a moment to examine their surroundings and spots a plateau. It seems to be another entrance in the wall opposite the thoroughly destroyed former balcony, where smoke still smolders – the result of Jharrath’s devastating fireball. Phaedra crawls upwards towards the damaged ledge and takes a quick peek. The tunnel seems empty at first, but then something moves. What in Lolth’s name… Quickly she regroups with the others and signals them to keep ready.

Hideous skinless creatures appear at the rim of the ledge. With muscles stretched taut over skeleton and fluids oozing from their bodies, they start to climb down the twenty feet drop. “Quth-maren,” the cleric exclaims, “undead skinned drow. Be careful of their ooze: it’s acid!”. They turn to face this new threat, when the spider once again jumps into existence.

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The wizard, accompanied by his mirror images, moves forward and climbs the strands, trying to reach a more strategic position. The spider launches a bite attack and its teeth sink into one of the shimmering images of the wizard. Up on the ledge a new opponent appears -an arcane guard- and four magic missiles fly straight into the fray. When they hit, only two of Jharrath’s mirror images remain.

“This fight is well coordinated,” the Xaniqos fighter observes through clenched teeth. No sooner have these words left his lips, than the spider takes advantage of his temporary slip of attention and paralyzes Alvra with a well-placed bite. Phaedra’s counterattack bounces off the spider’s hide, and the arachnid grapples her.

Lilith calls upon the Spider Queen to rebuke the undead warriors, but before she can activate that ability, one of the undead rests his horrifying gaze upon her and the normally strong willed fighter feels herself overcome with fear. A second undead tries to slice her open with his filthy claws, but can’t penetrate her armor.

From the side, the wizard launches an arch of lighting, which ravages the undead and wounds them heavily with electricity. Through the cleric’s spell resistance, she’s able to withstand the lightning arch; and Alvra is safe as well. Next, Jharrath takes out a candle and summons three earth elementals near the spider. Their combined weight is too much for the spider webs and they slowly topple out of sight, leaving a huge hole in the webbings. The spider is able to keep its footings, but has to release the scout in the process. Immediately, Phaedra lashes out and hits the eight-legged animal. When another round of the arcane guard’s magic missiles slams into the wizard, his last mirror image disappears.

“The only way you can enter Szith Morcane is either dead or as slaves!” A female voice rings out over the grunts and growls of the combatants. Upon the ledge, the Xaniqos see a female, wearing the symbol of a leering skull; it must be one of the Kiaransalee clerics, worshipers of the Lady of the Dead.

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Strengthened by the proximity of his mistress, the flayed creature makes another clawed attack on Lilith, once again keeping his horrifying gaze on her. The wounds of the oozing creature slowly begin to heal. They have to get out of there! Phaedra tumbles past the shadow spider -hitting it hard- and touches the still immobile Alvra on landing. Jharrath casts darkness on himself and moves towards the plateau Lilith spotted earlier. He sees a deserted corridor and dashes into it. “Don’t run, you’ll make a perfect slave!” The mocking voice of the Kiaransalee cleric follows him, as well as a crossbow bolt. The enchantment instantly seizes the wizard, leaving him paralyzed. There’s only one mobile Xaniqos drow left!

Phaedra teleports and takes Alvra with her, slowly dragging him towards the plateau where Jharrath is standing still. In the blink of an eye, three more drow scouts mirror her movements. She maintains her connection to Alvra, leading him further and further from the battlefield. Jharrath struggles and breaks the enchantment, casting darkness to hide their actions and whereabouts.

A frustrated shout sounds through the battle scene. The Kiaransalee cleric is not happy to see her prey escape and calls upon her Goddess. And the Lady of the Dead answers: a roaring flamestrike slams into the middle of the three, or rather six, siblings, but searing only Jharrath. Phaedra pushes the fighter into the corridor, and then steps back onto the webs.

The Xaniqos cleric manages to break the will of the glaring Quth-maren. Shaking her head clear of the last remnants of the undead’s influence, she tries to dodge the slashes of one, while the other spits acid blood at her. It splashes against the stone and spider strands, where it mingles with Lilith’s blood. Looking up, she sees the arcane guard drawing near. In full retreat she follows her brothers and sister, while being attacked by the undead and the guard over and over again.

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When Alvra comes to, he’s face down in a dark tunnel. His brother is heavily wounded, and both his sisters are battling on the web strands, while trying to flee to the relatively safety of the corridor. Another necromancer spell hits his eldest sister. Phaedra is driving the guard mad by teleporting away constantly when he comes too close. The fighter takes out his javelin and hurls it towards the Kiaransalee cleric on the other side of the crevice. Caught up in her spell casting, the necromancer is surprised by the attack. She pays in blood.

Summoned from another plane by the wizard, a large earth elemental appears and tries to grapple the arcane guard. As planned, its weight proves to be too much though, and both start falling through the net. The guard manages to hold on and climbs back up. In all consternation the spider advances on Lilith and paralyzes her with a bite of its poisonous fangs.

Covered in darkness, Phaedra sets out to retrieve the immobile cleric. Under attack by the quth-marens, she starts pushing her sister towards the plateau. Fortunately the undead miss. Alvra doesn’t though, and throws another javelin at the creatures, scoring a hit. Jharrath readies a fireball, waiting for his siblings to clear the webbing. The fighter bull-rushes the quth-marens, but loses his footing and lands on his back. There he continues fighting his opponent, who is stuck in the spider strands. Jharrath casts a spell on the other. Alas it seems to be resistant to fire. The spider removes Phaedra’s mirror images in a double attack. Quickly the scout shoves Lilith back another step. Jharrath lifts his arms and…

“Let them run!” Overseeing the battlefield, the Kiaransalee calls back her allies. “Stop the chase and let the worms run!” The attackers leave, making care to dodge Alvra’s harassing sword.

Limping and bleeding the drow of House Xaniqos manage to escape. Not a good day for the four adventurers. Still they finally managed to find Szith Morcane!

Shadows

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The drow climb through the hatch and descend down the rope ladder, which ends at a platform. A short corridor leads towards a giant chasm, that opens up 30 feet wide. A wind is blowing from down below. The crevice is wrapped up in spider webs, forming a kind of walkway. The web consists of several layers of thick spider ropes. Even the walls have been decorated with the sticky strands. As they look over the edge, they see the lower levels are also layered in spider silk. It is possible to climb the walls, but only for very experienced climbers. Which some of them are not!

After locking the hatch, the siblings gather near the edge. Jharrath uses one of his wands to see if there’s magic at work, but only faint traces of magic linger. Alvra steps onto the webbing, with Lilith close behind. The air currents feel weird. After advancing about 20 feet, the fighter’s foot gets stuck. When they examine the sticky strands, they notice that the webbings glisten in the area where Alvra is trying to get loose. Unfortunately he only manages to get his other foot stuck too. He’s entangled.

People have passed here, so there must be a safe route. The cleric walks back towards the platform, gathers up some dust and small stones and swipes these over the webbings near her brother. The dust clings to the sticky pieces, vaguely showing which way they should not go. When she tries to pull the fighter back to safety, she slips on the treacherous webbing. Now both drow are stuck!

Their siblings move out to help them, but a sudden movement alerts Phaedra to a new danger: in the top right corner she sees a large spider, hiding in the shadows. The beast is green, and has dark eyes which faintly glow red. The shadow spider rushes towards the drow and lashes out with very sharp claws. Phaedra quickly teleports to safety and takes out her spiked chain. When Jharrath is attacked, he uses his boots to zap away. Alvra and Lilith meanwhile try to keep their balance on the treacherous footings. The cleric’s soundburst spell has no effect on the advancing spider, so Alvra casts a globe of darkness.

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Phaedra watches the spider’s silhouette become vague, then disappear in the shadows altogether. With all of her senses alert, she suddenly hears a faint rustling behind her and immediately lashes out with her spiked weapon. The chain connects with something solid and the spider again pulls back into the shadows, narrowly missing the dark bolts that Lilith aims at the beast. Alvra tries to cast faerie fire on the creature, but to no avail. Turning, the spider attacks the wizard, or so it thinks. In stead, one of Jharrath’s six mirror images disappears. The wizard quickly summons a salt mephit to help him fight, and shoots Kellgore’s firebolts into the arachnid.

While the shadow creature is occupied, the drow scout approaches her sister and tries -in vain- to free her. Lilith casts a mass shield of faith to help her siblings out; her boots seem to be glued to the web strands. She then calls upon her deity for darkfire. Alvra manages to pull himself free and carefully steps to the side of the crevice. There he casts dancing lights around the spider’s head and grabs his sword.

With only two of the wizard’s mirror images left, Jharrath’s situation is not looking good. The arachnid fanatically bites and claws. Phaedra counterattacks and hits, but the damage is less severe than expected. A full hit of Lilith’s darkfire also has little to no effect.

A soft whistling alerts the Xaniqos to a new danger: in an aperture, two drow appear. They seem satisfied to watch the fight scene from up above. Their grin quickly changes to horror when a sizzling ball of fire roars towards them. The spell detonates with a low roar and the hostile drow are catapulted. One lands in the web – a charred corpse; the other lies smoldering one floor down. Jharrath puts away the bat guano with a satisfied grin.

Alvra swings his sword at the shadow spider, but misses because of the darkness. The spider immediately lashes out and grapples the fighter, which activates the drow’s special armor. Another round of darkfire soars towards the spider, but the flames don’t harm it. The beast, attacked on all sides, tries to take its prey to the Shadow Plane, but the fighter resists. Lilith quickly heals her heavily wounded brother before the arachnid returns, and then casts Bebelith Blessing on herself. She finally manages to pull herself loose and rushes in to help her sister, who is attacking the beast. Again the shadow spider returns to its plane.

 

Prying Eyes

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While Lilith patches up her wizard brother, Phaedra and Alvra go over the remains of their defeated enemies. They were very well equipped with magic weapons and armor, amulets, wands and potions. When Lilith searches the archer, she finds an obsidian bat form among the other equipment. The cleric scrutinizes the statue, and then asks Jharrath if it could be the sought after key to the portal. The wizard studies the object in the light of the dawn and confirms her belief: this is an activating stone.

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The cleric applies more healing to Alvra, while keeping an eye on the surroundings. The fighter is leaning against a wall. Someone is watching us, he signs. Lilith nods. At that moment, Phaedra return from patrolling the neighborhood. A flock of ravens is their constant company up above. I know, Lilith signals, but we can’t go back, we still need to find Dark Fate. Alvra, find us a defensible spot. Do it, quickly!

They travel on, until the fighter finds a shallow basin with a low wall at the back and bushes in the middle. Lilith creates a number of semi-tangible, visible magical orbs and sends them forth. These Prying Eyes have the specific instructions to scout for danger. The cleric leans back against the rim of the basin, as does Alvra, and tries to get some rest. Their brother finds cover under a bush. Phaedra hides nearby and keeps watch.

The day passes slowly, until the Prying Eyes wake their mistress and alert her to advancing danger: six drow are at 120 feet and closing in. Lilith sits up and signals to her siblings. They are surrounding us! Alvra gives his sister a hand, and with his help, she manages to climb out of the pit. The Eyes inform her that the enemies have advanced to sixty feet from where they were resting.

The cleric starts chanting and creates a shimmering, magical field around her companions, that enables them to avert attacks easier. She then casts a spell on Alvra, that makes his muscles bulge, and dresses herself in an magical armor of darkness. An anti-toxin potion should also help counter any sleeping spell darts. Jharrath drinks one as well. Lilith warns the others: through her Prying Eyes she can see that that five of the six enemy drow just became invisible. Among them is the cleric who attacked them yesterday. And she doesn’t seem to be the only cleric this time!

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Alvra peeks over the edge, ready to jump into action. Drinking a potion that blurs her outline, Lilith takes cover behind a big rock, with her wizard brother near. Moments later he summons a salt mephit. Glitter dust swirls through the air.

Silently, Phaedra steps away, taking position on the other side of the rim’s top while hiding in invisibility. Then she hears footsteps next to her. She keeps very quiet and from the corner of her eye she sees an archer who takes aim at the mephit. The warrior is in full armor and dressed in black. Another battle is about to begin.