Phaedra is hit by the mind flayer’s psionic blast, which she manages to repel. It still feels nasty though. Eight lizard-like creatures swarm from the statue and head towards the scout. The beasts resemble two-legged lizards with long, flexible tails. Having no neck, their massive mouths with three mandibles are attached directly to their bodies. The ethereal marauders utter an irritating whining sound.
With her crossbow at ready, the scout ducks behind the statue. The others arrive at the landing too and see their sister surrounded by muzzles with legs, but before they can jump into action, another psionic blast hits the room. Lilith and her wizard brother are safe, but two marauders are not that fortunate. They freeze, while the others disappear. Phaedra tumbles past them and casts a spell, so she – and only she – is able to see these ethereal creatures.
Alvra, having passed a living room on his way down, finally finds his siblings again. He almost bumps into the wizard on the stairs. The fighter continues towards the opening and sees a mind flayer, the drow sisters and two open mouths.
A sizzling fireball whizzes towards the illithid. The statue and part of the wall are blackened, but the mind flayer isn’t bothered at all. When the cleric launches a flame strike, the octopus head vanishes, only to reappear behind Jharrath. The wizard feels a presence next to him and uses his boots to teleport. Now he ends up in the room with the silver strands. Like his brother before, Jharrath passes a room with an ice sphere of crystal clear light on his way down. A large, unearthly beast with spikes is caught in the middle of it. As he watches, a flash of ice cold light shoots towards the dark elf. Fortunately it misses. The wizard realizes a demon or devil is trapped in there. He continues downwards on the staircase, back to the other drow.
The marauders attack the scout, who lashes out with her spiked chain, killing one of the beasts. Alvra is attacked as well, and puts his sword to good use. Lilith clubs a marauder to death, when she feels slithery tentacles on her head. They try to get a hold, but can’t get a grip. The cleric tastes the mind flayer’s frustration.
Phaedra and Alvra notice what is happening to their sister. Another marauder bites the dust, killed by Phaedra, and returns to the ethereal planes. Alvra charges the mind flayer and scores a hit with his sword. A filthy, purple substance oozes from the illithid’s body and a yell resounds in their heads. Again and again the drow slashes at the humanoid, aided by Lilith. The mind flayer focuses all his mental energy in a mind blast. The cleric is not affected, but Alvra is stunned. The last marauder also attacks Lilith, but only manages to add another scratch to her armor. Phaedra tries to advance on the illithid, but her brother stands in her way. Her spiked chain kills the last yapping muzzle. With a mighty swing of her flail, the enraged cleric kills the mind flayer.
Eight pearls are embedded in the statue, and when Phaedra pries them out, the statue becomes dull. There is no gem though. After a while, Alvra has recovered enough from the psionic blast to search the mind flayer’s repulsing corpse. He finds some gems, but not the right one either.
There are more rooms upstairs: a living room, a room with an ice creature and one with strange strands of webs. Perhaps the item we seek is there.
The drow resume their journey to the top of the tower.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
When the Xaniqos are rested, they again travel the winding corridors of the Underdark, until they arrive in a huge domed paradise of stalagmites and stalactites. An immense abyss opens up before them, a long broad bridge connecting the tunnels to the dwarven city of Dunspeirrin. They have made it to their destination! Of course, Dunspeirrin lacks the sophisticated appearance of a Drow settlement!
Carts are crossing the bridge in both directions, transporting a never ending stream of goods like coals and gems from the mines, slaves (even Drow), Goblinoids, Svirfneblin and of course many Duergar. A cacophony of sounds emanates from the city, the noise is overwhelming after the relative silence in the abandoned smaller Underdark tunnels. The people of Dunspeirrin don’t pay much attention to the Drow, being only a few among the many who travel and trade here. Dunspeirrin is always at war, either with Shield dwarves over their mines or with their ancient enemies the Illithid. The place itself is always busy with mining resources for weapon forging.
There are several guard posts stationed on the bridge, while others are patrolling – marshall law rules in this town – but the Xaniqos pass unhindered, walking through huge massive open doors. Once closed, this city is an impregnable fortress. In the city, the noise is even louder, a chaos of sounds, sulfur and coals. The blows of blacksmiths resonate in the heavy air.
In the middle of an open plaza is a large market with pens, filled with animals and slaves. In this city a word is a word, and a contract is a contract. Ninety percent of the traders is Duergar. They look at the Xaniqos Cleric with a sense of admiration and respect, and Alvra’s armor is also viewed approvingly. Lilith’s Scout sister Phaedra attracts little attention, so does the Wizard; the Duergar are not into magic.
Spiders, rothé, lizards (both draft and riding animals), ratites, amphibians, dragonflies, praying mantises, beatles – there’s an enormous variety of animals. Amid the chaos, Alvra spots a pen with twelve riding lizards. Two Duergar are standing in front of them, one is covered in dust with soot on his face, the other looks like a guard. The merchant introduces himself as Murgol Coalhewer.
These beautiful animals are about four years old and trained in combat. Each costs 2000 gold pieces, including riding gear.
The lizards are not the least troubled by the noise around them. Alvra knows that an untrained lizard is worth 500 gold pieces, plus an additional 1000 gold pieces for the training. Lilith asks the merchant if her brother can check on the lizards, which Murgol allows. All seem to be fine and in a good condition.
The Cleric offers 10.000 gold pieces for eight riding animals, but to her surprise the trader offers her another deal: all twelve lizards for 10.000 plus a service.
In the past week one of the mines failed to bring up coal, and neither did we receive any messages. I have sent in two enforcers, but they still have not returned. There might be a Delver at work, a huge dungeoneering aberration. This beast is quite rare, it is an underground delver that is very fond of stone. The nightmare of every miner. A lair would be a disaster. Their skin is acid and any contact will eat through metal. The beast is neutral in attitude, but will fiercely defend its territory. My claim on this particular mine is too good to leave it and find another; the investments have been to costly. What is your decision, Cleric?
Lilith agrees to his proposal and asks if there’s an inn where they might stay. Fortunately Murgol’s cousin, Ivar Hammerhead, runs the Hamer & Anvil Inn. They will recognize Ivar by his lack of hair. The trader will meet them there the next morning and escort them to the mine, which is situated on the outskirts of Dunspeirrin.
The inn is filled with 99% Duergar, who are drinking, eating and gambling. The bald dwarf will make room for the Xaniqos and feed them with rothé stew. When Jharrath inquires after the herbs he uses, the Duergar smirks. We just roast them, that’s it. And the beverages are mainly beer and wine. Ivar then spits in a glass and ‘cleans’ it with a towel, whereupon the wizard asks for a bottle of wine. Closed. Chateau de Mithral Hall 😉
The inn keeper then sends two Duergar upstairs to clean and clear the rooms for his new customers. Five minutes later another Duergar rolls face-first down the stairs, soon followed by a semi-clothed dwarven woman. They hastily leave the establishment, booed by the clientele. It would have been better if they had paid for their room. Lilith and Alvra visit the market again to replenish their potion stocks. In the evening the Xaniqos siblings go upstairs to their rooms, which are dusty and not really clean, though the sturdy latch on the door compensates for the untidiness.
The Hobgoblin zombies resume their rowing, following the Kua-Toas’ new instructions. The remainder of the journey is uneventful and finally they draw near to Looblishar. Not a single light shines at the base nor on top of the looming cliffs. In this city, Shar, the goddess of darkness, rules. Her ultimate goal is to take over all of Faerûn and plunge it into an absolute black void. Looblishar is situated in the Deep Reach Region, next to cities of Duergar and Illithid. Everyone is welcome in Looblishar, and information is her main trade.
The party moors at the docks and watch the bustle of the small port for a moment. Kua-Toas walk past them, on their way to the caves at the base of the cliffs, while others dive down from above; not a comfortable way of descending, but it is fast.
The only way into the city is up by lianas of kelp; there are no stairs. The Cleric is not amused by their trip so far. A boring journey over water in a boat with no luxury at all. Then the irritating attack, and now climbing a stinking vegetable rope into utter darkness. While her sister easily climbs the walls, Lilith and Jharrath need more time to arrive at the top of the plateau. A shaggy, messy cluster of houses and a couple of vague streets, where about two thousand inhabitants live. Apart from a couple of Illithid, the Kua-Toas are most represented. Everyone watches as the Xaniqos and their guides make their way into the center, towards the Temple of Shar. All Kua-Toas of Looblishar wear her symbol.
Inside, twenty human Clerics, a male Drow Wizard – all dressed in black – and a Kua-Toa are gathered. The latter is Vuon Goddessgifted, to whom Lilith gives Plill Seachild’s letter. He introduces them to the Drow, Xothed Trizz’lorllin.
Ah, so you are all ‘Spider kissers’, eh?
His contempt is obvious.
The Xaniqos Cleric icily stares him down and then ignores the inferior male, while Phaedra says through clenched teeth that they indeed serve the one true Goddess, Lolth. After the exchange of a few more ‘pleasantries’, Lilith inquires after the best inn in town. Vuon tells her they can chose between the Hidden Veil and the Shadowed Lair. As the Xaniqos leave for the inn, their Kua-Toa guides decide to continue on their quest. The siblings thank them for their protection and guidance, and wish them good luck.
Go with the Goddess.
Uneven roads lead to a large mud building with a sign board, depicting a veil. The Hidden Veil is a modest accommodation, no shops, nothing fancy. A doorway leads into the very quiet inn, where the clientele consists of a couple of Mindflayers and Kua-Toas. They get four rooms, including baths and dinner, for two gold pieces. Soon they are served rothé broth, potatoes and green stuff. Lilith checks the food for poison, but it seems to be safe. And it even smells good.
Phaedra asks the inn keeper for a map of the area. He tells her that the Great Well – the only fresh water well for many miles, where many merchants gather before setting out into the Underdark again – is their best option to obtain one. Meanwhile six Duergar enter the inn and order lots of beer. They get quite rowdy, so the other customers stay away from them. The four siblings go up to their very spartan rooms and emerge again somewhat later, refreshed from their baths.