An unexpected party

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With the wolves at a safe distance, the Xaniqos take a moment to catch their breath and heal themselves. Meanwhile the wind picks up and dark clouds roll across the sky. Big fat raindrops fall upon their upturned faces, while lightening etches paths of fire across the sky.

What sorcery is this?!

As in reply, a thunderclap echoes through the trees. When nothing bad seems to happen, they continue on their path through the dark forest. Her eyes on the tracks, the scouts follows the imprints. Hours pass, and the trees become less dense. A valley opens up and in the clearing, they see a big building with a thatched roof.

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There seems to be movement inside the barn. Phaedra signals the others to stop and keep their distance, but Alvra, intrigued by the new world that surrounds him, is oblivious to his sister’s sign. Lilith has to drag him back behind the tree cover.

The scout sneaks towards the shuttered window and takes a quick peek. Light and music spills from the structure, and people are dancing to merry music. Two drow are piling food on a cart. On her way back to report to her cleric sister, Phaedra sees people walking down the road towards the barn. They look like human farmers and speak common.

Hmm, it is strange that drow are mingling with humans,

Lilith says,

Go back and see if you can find out more.

Phaedra obeys and runs back to the barn under cover of the night. Another human nears the building, wearing armor. Is there a party going on? Suddenly she hears a male voice.

See you next time!

and a guy walks straight through the wall. The music swells and laughter roars through the night. Two more women approach and disappear into the house. The party is getting more boisterous by the minute.

It is a very weird house, and the wall seems to be fake!

Upon his sister’s words, Jharrath steps out from behind the trees and casts a spell to detect magic. Then he is spotted by a man who comes around the corner.

Hey, come inside! It’s cold out here and we’re waiting for you.

The guy gestures towards the building.

Come along now, it’s warm and cozy. The hostess has prepared a nice dinner, there’s lots of food and drink. Plus company!

The wizard tries to sense the guy’s motive and though he seems to be sincere, Jharrath still doesn’t trust the situation. The man is a bit too pushy towards a total stranger.

Yes yes, I’ll be along in a short while. I need to smoke a pipe first.

The two women who went inside earlier, step out with flushed faces.

Come on, dance with us! Don’t be so shy, we don’t see you enough!

And -overflowing with enthusiasm- they try to hook arms with the wizard. Too close to his liking, Jharrath teleports to a safe distance.

Wow, that is SO neat. Tricks! You just HAVE to show this to the others. You’re a pro, come on inside.

Alvra and Lilith are watching the spectacle from the edge of the forest, ready to intervene if necessary. Phaedra checks out the other side of the building and sees two drow, dressed in black, who are hauling a large bag onto a cart. One of them looks up and yells,

Who are you? Where do you come from?!

From the woods,

the scout replies, trying to sound nonchalant, but the two male take off at full speed. When Phaedra peeks into the bag, she sees lots of food: potatoes, cakes, fruit. She chases after them, but gets hit by two bolts. The last thing she hears before she becomes unconscious is “Take her!”. Drow knock-out poison works fast.

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Jharrath is close enough to see what happens to his sister. He immediately takes out a candle and walks towards the still form of Phaedra. The women grab him again, and because of the ongoing exorbitantly cheeriness, the wizard suspect an enchantment. The wizard summons a large elemental, and he orders it to pick up his sister and carry her towards the trees. Upon seeing the elemental, the drow in black run away.

The armored human takes out his sword and pokes Jharrath.

Come, you must help,

He hits Jharrath with the flat side of the sword; the blade is icy cold.

Take her inside!

The male is getting very insistent, and two more appear. The situation is getting grim. Lilith, who approaches at the first signs of trouble, notices that the human’s feet don’t leave any tracks and they feel unnatural. When Alvra pokes the shape with his finger, it goes straight through. The ‘humans’ move back into the house. What is going on here?

 

The Upper World

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With ‘Elliya Lolthu’ Lilith ends her reverie. They all feel better after resting a couple of hours, and the cleric is able to restore her brother’s strength. Jharrath identifies the spiked chain they found earlier as the ‘Living Chain’, a magic weapon that enhances the user’s ability to trip an opponent and hands it back to Phaedra. She stows it away for later use. After examining the portal, the wizard concludes that there’s no turning back at this point. The gateway is magically locked, and they need a specific object to unlock it. Over the portal is an insignia of a bat, could this be the domain of House Shi’quos? The only way to find out is to move forward.

The drow once again pass the fake wall, keeping an eye out for the aranea’s, but the room stays quiet. Another passage takes them into a corridor, which gradually slopes upward. As usual, Phaedra scouts ahead. Drafts are picking up and the temperature is dropping. After about an hour, they arrive at another wall. Phaedra concentrates and focuses her will in the firm believe that this wall is also an illusion. Without hesitation, she steps through…

…into a world that is alien to her. Her drow eyes are not used to the bright light -though it is only night- and she sees trees and ferns, insects and birds, the sky! She has never seen the likes in her whole life. Soon the others follow. They have arrived in a large coniferous forest. Mountains loom overhead and a light fog obscures their whereabouts. The Xaniqos siblings have reached the Upper World!

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It is cold, it’s bleak and damp. Everything seems to be constantly moving, and it is so open. The drow, used to the confinements of the Underdark, feel very exposed. Alvra turns and searches for landmarks. The portal is situated in a little nook of the mountain wall. He carves two circles in the bark of a pine that is standing in front of the portal, and Jharrath marks the cliff with an invisible mark. This way they can always recognize the entrance to their own world. With a quick step back through the portal the cleric makes sure their way to the Underdark is not blocked.

Three pairs of deep footprints can be seen in the marshy ground. Whoever they are following must be heavily armored. Lilith speaks in a hushed voice,

These tracks are the only clue we have and we can’t go back. Sister, lead on and let’s hurry!

The Xaniqos set out into the forest, with Phaedra tracking ahead. All are on high alert. The silence of the Underdark is only a memory. There are lots of unfamiliar sounds; crows shriek, insects buzz and the wind howls through the trees. Silently they pass through the trees, silent as ghosts.

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Suddenly all sounds stop. The scout freezes, trees surrounding her on all sides. In the eerie atmosphere, a different kind of howling arises. Wolves! She runs full back full speed to warn the others, while the howling comes ever closer. Lilith casts a mass shield of faith and together they wait, taking cover behind the trees. The wizard summons two earth elementals, just in case. Then a huge antlered dire elk comes crashing through the undergrowth. Hunted by a pack of wolves, it tramples over one of the elementals, destroying it in the process. With a mighty bound, it leaps clear of the mess and runs on. The dire wolves, large, skinny and very hungry, turn towards the new and perhaps easier prey. But they might be mistaken…

The pack attacks, biting and tripping, while the Xaniqos fight back with sword, flail, spiked chain and spells. A large elemental, summoned by Jharrath, joins their defenses. Phaedra drives her opponent mad by repeatedly teleporting out of harms way. Teeth and weapons draw blood. When two dire wolves go down, the silhouette of huge new wolf appears on the edge of the fighting scene. It throws back its head and howls, command in its voice. The others immediately heed the alpha’s call and tactically retreat, though they never stray far from the drow.

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Looks can be deceiving

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The siblings feel the spider toxin course through their bodies, but are able to suppress the effects. The scout searches the cave and finds two pouches underneath a web: one with three hundred gold pieces and the other with two beautiful gems. The black opal and the topaz must be worth at least a thousand gold pieces! A mighty composite short bow is also part of the loot.

Amalica

Amalica

 

Then Phaedra hears the fading sound of heavy boots. Amalica is getting away! She approaches the wall where the bebiliths first appeared and sticks her head through without hesitation. When spiders can walk through walls, so can she. On the other side, the Despana female -her face contorted with hatred- makes an exit. Spiderwebs and junk litter the area.

Suddenly sobbing fills the silence.

“This sucks!”

It sounds like a woman in distress.

Jharrath strides to the other side of the illusionary wall. A female drow is pounding the floor, hitting it with frustration. Her clothes are nondescript, a rapier next to her. With tears in her eyes, she sobs:

“I’m betrayed on all sides.”

“What is wrong, milady?”

the drow asks, but the crying only gets worse.

When Lilith steps through the wall to join the wizard, she almost gets stuck in a web. Jharrath looks up and from the corner of his eye sees a humanoid form dangling from the ceiling. His eyes widen in alarm: it’s an aranea! All pretense is gone, and while the spider-like foe jumps down towards Lilith and attacks her with its rapier, the ‘woman’ -tears dried- changes into her spider form and lashes out towards the male drow. Jharrath conjures an elemental and counterattacks, while the cleric hits the aranea repeatedly and successful with her flail. She manages to evade the creature’s weapon and bite. Her brother is not that fortunate and takes a nasty bite in the shoulder. To prevent any further damage, he casts a spell which makes his contours blurry.

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Alvra, also caught in the web that’s covering the entrance, manages to cut himself loose and witnesses how the aranea -wounded by the cleric- flees the cave in full retreat. His reflexes kick in and he swings his sword towards the creature, while his sister puts her flail to good work. A javelin sails after it as a parting gift.

The second aranea, hit by the wizard’s ray of clumsiness, Lilith’s flail and the elemental’s pounding, also climbs towards safety and together the creatures disappear. Jharrath is feeling weaker by the minute. The party moves back to the first cave to tend to their wounds and the drow decide to spend the night under Phaedra’s watchful eyes.

Bebilith attack

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The portal looms ahead, dark, and four times as high as the drow. On the other side is a moderately big cave. Three steps lead down to a surface that is littered with rubble and old weapons. Deep scratches line the walls up to thirty feet. Sarcophagus lie shattered, desecrated by grave robbers. When they carefully proceed, the sisters see movement on the other side of the corridor. Phaedra catches a glimpse of a head and a hand, when a voice says:

‘So nice of you to arrive, you’re smarter than I thought you were.’

The Xaniqos freeze. That voice… It is Amalica, the treacherous Despana! What is she doing here?! Jharrath immediately casts a fireball spell, and a tremendous explosion rocks the cave. A high-pitched, inhuman scream erupts, accompanied by velvet laughter – though Amalika’s mirth sounds a bit forced.

‘Have fun with our allies. I’ll see you in the afterlife. And Alvra… we’ll meet again!’

Chanting reverberates in the cave, and a huge demonic spider appears. Phaedra takes a healing potion and moves slightly forward. Upon the wizard’s spell, ten feet long black tentacles shoot from the ground, but the creature still approaches, unhindered by the writhing barrier. Alvra’s javelin bounces off its chitin armor, but Lilith’s magical flame strike hits, causing the fiend to thrash in pain. It positions itself between the Xaniqos. Phaedra lashes out with her spiked chain, aided by her brother. The fighter draws dark blood with his sword. Jharrath activates his boots of dimension stride and steps away, while the cleric’s body suddenly erupts with eight tendrils – she has cast Yochlol’s blessing.

Bebilith
Another demonic spider steps through the illusionary wall. It throws a web towards the scout, sticking her against the wall. Phaedra succeeds in escaping the sticky strands, but a second bite attack poisons her. She drinks an anti-toxin, while her sister evades the attacks of the first spider. Jharrath counters and a fireball roars straight towards the fiend. He is aided by his brother, who yet again swings his sword in a successful attack. Since the large black tentacles don’t hinder the spiders one bit, Jharrath dismisses them and summons a large earth elemental. He orders it to aid Phaedra against the second bebilith. The wizard calls up an arc of lighting, but to his dismay the creatures are invulnerable to the spell.

Lilith’s tentacles strike hard several times, but the spider returns the favor and its claws rip through the cleric’s armor. Severely injured she retreats towards the portal, but the spider follows her and with one more attack renders the cleric unconscious. Phaedra tumbles to her aid, but misses her attack. The elemental breaks through the spider’s guard and with a mighty blow kills the bebilith. In the same swipe, it engages the other spider, so the wizard can cast a healing spell on the cleric. Soon Lilith is able to get up, drink an anti-toxin and heal herself further.

Finally their combined attack is successful: they kill the last bebilith through both physical and magical force.

Failure Is No Option!

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After spending time in reverie, the cleric’s spells are renewed and Lilith is finally able to remove the curse that blinded her sister. She also restores both Alvra’s and Phaedra’s strength. When she finally sees their surroundings, the drow scout concludes they did a good job navigating: they’re only about four miles from Erelhei-Cinlu! They find their way back to the trail that leads to the mine and after two more hours, they see the walls of their city again. House Tormtor is manning the gates; the Xaniqos are admitted, with torn and dusty armors.

At home they are greeted by Quarra, and together the siblings go to the chapel, where Lilith gives a full report. Their eldest sister comments.

These places you mention are in the Boneyard. It is a big area with undead. Szith Morcane is an outpost of Maerimydra. Our Matron Mother is still working with the council to search for the prophecy. The other houses also want to chase after the rod Dark Fate. Stay close. And freshen up!

And they do exactly that. Alvra offers his help in repairing the wizard’s armor of dark scales. With a firm blow… he dents it beyond repair; apparently the armor is too frail for such a strong treatment.

Something went wrong… want me to try again?

but all of his efforts are in vain.

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Jharrath rolls his eyes, disappointed.

Guess I’ll have to find a real specialist; thanks for the attempt anyway.

The fighter has more luck with fixing his sister’s broken armor.

Jharrath, will you use this piece of violet mushroom to make an antidote?

Of course, sister, but I think normal ones – if taken up front – will also help against the poisoning of darklight ore.

In the middle of the night there’s a big commotion at the door: the Matron Mother has returned home. Kyorl calls everyone to the throne room. Minotaurs guard the doors, while the Xaniqos family sits down for food and drinks. Lady Thandysha sits at the head of the table.

The future of House Xaniqos is at stake. The information on the scroll you found is extremely important. Several search parties have set out to find the rod, and House Tormtor is especially active. If that House succeeds, they will become even mightier. But with the information you have provided, we have a better chance at retrieving Dark Fate. I was planning on giving the assignment to Quarra, but I have a better use for her here. Can and dare you to take on this mission upon yourself, Lilith? Failure is NO option.

The cleric assures her mother that they are worthy and capable to go in search of the rod.

Quarra, revered elder sister, I’m sure your skills will be perfect for the diplomatic mission to the Kua Toa settlement.”

Yes, you will go together with Taldinyon,” her mother adds, “while you, Lilith, go to Sythe Morcane to search for this Dark Fate. Tonight I will ask Lolth for guidance, and tomorrow you’ll go on your way. You will not be alone in your search; other drow parties will be on the road as well. House Tormtor and House Shi’quos know a lot and they will be working together. Keep your diplomacy close at hand and don’t let yourself be overruled. Make sure there are no consequences for this House! And whatever happens, I must have this rod! Take whatever you need.

The whole household prays for a successful mission and the Spider Queen grants them four potions of holy water, while Jharrath – who has managed to set up quite a business – offers each a number of healing potions.

The Cloaker Lord

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The Xaniqos try to rest, while Phaedra keeps watch. It is unnerving to hear and not see. When two hours have passed, new flapping sounds can be heard close to where they were ambushed. They don’t seem to come closer though, and the scout doesn’t feel she ought to wake the others – yet. After a while, Alvra takes over the watch; he’s not totally rested but does feel somewhat better. In the quiet of the night the fighter hears moaning wails, one answering the other. His fighting experience tells him that an attack is impending, since the beasts are gathering again. When the numbers keep growing, the urgency to leave grows too and he softly wakes Lilith. Trusting her brother’s instincts, she orders him to wake the others and dons her armor. Jharrath’s spells have not returned yet, and neither have her own, but their enemies are approaching once more.

Jharrath has just cast tentacles of force, when a loud sonic screech resounds. The sound grates on their nerves, but, apart from Phaedra who starts shaking, the drow break loose from the effect. While the dreadful moaning continues, the cleric gazes beyond the tentacles and catches not only glimpses of cloakers, but also of a larger specimen in the shadows of the Underdark tunnel. She grabs her sister’s hand and pulls her along – away from the area – with Alvra in the lead. Suddenly Lilith notices how the air shimmers near them: someone – or something – is coming!

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A huge cloaker materializes from the shadows near the wizard, several smaller ones hovering near. Jharrath uses his dimension boots and reappears in front of his siblings. Alvra keeps on running full speed, with his sisters on his heels, Phaedra being guided by Lilith. The scout seems to be in a deep trance, unable to defend or attack. The winged beasts follow in formation. Jharrath casts a fireball at their attackers, but again the Cloaker Lord plane shifts. The explosion rocks the corridors and for a little while the moaning stops. The drow get the feeling they’re being herded, the creatures are waiting for them to take a wrong turn. Alvra is somehow able to avoid the dead ends and seems to know where he’s going.

After fifteen minutes of hot pursuit, the moaning stops and then seems to go away entirely. The fighter still keeps on running, and when they’re no longer able, forces them into a quick march. Suddenly he hears an alien, sonic voice saying ‘And stay back!’, while the last word eerily echoes through the underground. He has the feeling this might have been their end. When Phaedra, who has come to her senses, hears about the apparition, she tells her siblings this was probably a cloaker lord, a superior sub-race of this feared subterranean race.

Once they have caught their breath, they continue once more. Alvra doesn’t know exactly where he is, but he manages to find them a reasonably safe spot where they can rest. He keeps watch though, and stays alert throughout the night. The darkness stays quiet.

When Cloaks Come to Life

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Again the drow stand at the slope of the mine, and try to decide which way to go. As the brothers each point in a different direction and Phaedra is still blinded, Lilith takes the lead. Confidently she takes them through the tunnels of the Underdark, back towards the city of Erelhei-Cinlu – or at least that’s what she’s convinced of. When they have traveled for a few hours, Phaedra becomes aware of an air fluctuation, which brushes against her face. She listens carefully, almost feeling her surroundings with her highly sensitive senses. They enter a dark corridor. In the distance the cleric observes a strange phenomena. It’s almost as if someone has left a couple of black piwafwi’s to dry on boulders.

Her sister feels a change in the air, like something is gliding on the wind, and she instinctively ducks. All of a sudden a black spot flies straight into Jharrath, uttering a screeching sound. Notwithstanding the moaning sound, the wizard keeps his wits about, but still is attacked. By a cloaker!

Cloaker

Five more creatures launch themselves from the rocks which the cleric had spotted earlier. One of them attacks Lilith with its nasty looking tail, leaving an angry scratch. Again the screeching reverberates through the tunnels, echoing between ceiling and walls, causing the scout – who has no eyesight – to panic temporarily. She drops her spiked chain and takes off at a dead run, away from the sound. The cleric is under attack by a second creature, but both the tail and vocal attack have no effect. A third cloaker tries to hit Alvra, but the tail rebounds off his armor.

The fighter carefully takes a step closer to the wizard, keeping in mind the poison that Lilith smeared on his sword, and sticks the point into Jharrath’s attacker. The beast’s movements seem to lessen. When yet another monster tries to grapple Jharrath – though in vain – the drow casts a spell, which results in six mirror images of himself. These confuse the creature long enough to keep the wizard safe. He manages to escape his opponent’s embrace, but loses one of the images. When the beast uses the shadows to better protect itself, Jharrath is inspired and casts a circle of darkness around him. Still he gets hit, after which Jharrath teleports to a safe distance. From there he aims his wand of scorching rays at the cloaker.

Lilith calls upon Lolth and eight writhing tentacles ooze from her body. One of the cloakers wraps his wings around her and tries to bite her, but it can’t find an opening. The cleric counterattacks with her eight tentacles and subsequently hits the beast with her flail. The poison and the special fire damage of her weapon ravage it almost to the death, but there’s still some fighting spirit left. Twice it tries to attack the cleric, but she crushes it with her tentacles, taking on a second cloaker with her flail. With two strong attacks, she kills this one also, and a third says in an alien yet recognizable voice:

You’re too much trouble!

and flaps away.

Meanwhile, Alvra is hacking and slashing at the creature that now definitely is weakening, but still it manages to get close to the drow. Too close! The fighter takes his kukri and lashes out, while the hungry mouths of his armor dig into the cloaker’s body. With a booming intimidating laugh, again and again he punctures the cloaker’s hide. His strategy seems to work. The attacker releases him and takes off. Grabbing his sword, Alva tries to hit it once more, but the darkness prevents him from hitting his target.

Somewhat further, Phaedra comes to her senses and hears flapping. She loads her crossbow and aims at where the sound is coming from. When she feels a sharp sting, she realizes she’s been hit. The black attacker grapples and tries to bite her, but misses. She has quite a good knowledge of these animals and uses her abilities to blind it. A bright flash illuminates her surroundings and… she becomes invisible.

Are we playing now? I don’t like it when my food disappears!

Though the creature’s moaning makes her muscles cramp, she manages to sneak away. After a while, the beast gives up its search and disappears into the darkness. Phaedra hears them very high up in an air shaft, and walks back towards her siblings. Her sister nods and hands over Phaedra’s favorite weapon.

The cleric gathers the Xaniqos close and heals their wounds, giving extra attention to Jharrath. Soon they are all looking way better, and together they walk back to the last intersection.