Ambushed!

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The drow hit the road in the dead of night, when the evil sun’s glare isn’t as fierce. Keeping to cover as often as possible, they travel the lands, past neglected and overgrown farmhouses. Phaedra falls back to keep an eye on possible pursuit. It’s a cold, windy and cloudy night. The Upperworld is quite unpleasant. After a while, they arrive at the end of the shrubbery. Up ahead the farmland is dotted with ruins. In the distance the rolling hills give way to higher mountains.

Jharrath and Theo exchange small talk. Apparently the Friezford drow uphold trade through the portal. Lilith checks the air, where patrolling ravens once again come closer. They feel evil. The Xaniqos run towards one of the ruins to hide, but apparently it’s too late: they have been spotted. Immediately the ravens fly southward – without a doubt straight towards the Hidden Dell, as Theo informs them. The drow cautiously follow the black birds over the deserted fields, ot of options for cover.

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Then a voice rings out from one of the ruins to their left. Elven chanting finds a way to Lolth, calling down a flame strike in their middle. Nimble Phaedra escapes without as much as a single blister, but the other drow all take damage. Their unfortunate guide is charred beyond recognition and slowly topples forward. Arrows buzz through the air, one striking the wizard in his chest, another piercing Phaedra’s armor. She quickly turns around and discovers both cleric and bowman. Both are dressed from head to toes in black.

Jharrath surrounds himself with five mirror images. He takes out a bit of bat guana and sends a fireball sizzling towards the silo, where the —soon to be severely injured— archer hides. He then takes position between his brother and sister.

The scout runs and crouches behind a wall, finding a bit of cover – or at least, that’s what she thought. Someone suddenly pops up, apparently coming out of invisibility, and fires a crossbow at Phaedra. She duplicates his tactics and disappears before the bolt can find her as a target. Taking out her spiked chain, she lashes out repeatedly. The drow’s rapier counterstrikes, and the two opponents battle back and forth. When her spiked chain doesn’t give her the results she wishes for, she exchanges it for her crossbow. The male charges and… Phaedra disappears from view, only to reappear a bit further on. The drow grins, seemingly enjoying the challenge. In sign language he says, If you surrender, you can always join us. The Xaniqos drow answers by blinding the dark elf.

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Further to the left, Lilith serves the unknown and hostile cleric a portion of her own medicine: a flame strike sears from the skies and strikes the female head on. A shriek gives voice to the hit, leading Alvra’s javelin her way as well.

More arrows cross the open area, passing through two of Jharrath’s mirror images. The second archer aims a wand at herself, then puts it away. The boost is successful, because her next arrow finds a crack in Lilith’s armor. The Xaniqos priestess roars and charges full towards her attacker. The drow archer didn’t exactly see that coming. Quickly she trades the bow for her rapier and aims it at Lilith, while an additional arrow from the silo finds its way into Lilith’s back. The cleric sends a stream of searing lights towards her attacker, following through with a spell, inflicting more damage to the heavily wounded drow archer. When the opponent tries to tumble past Lilith, almost stabbing her in the neck, the priestess attacks with another spell and kills her.

Alvra follows the course his javelin took earlier and finds another archer behind a wall. And though his attack is well coordinated, it still misses. Something else seems to be aiding these drow. The hostile cleric once again calls upon Lolth and a dagger appears out of thin air, poking down on the Xaniqos fighter. He shrugs off the effects and concentrates on dislodging the bow from the archer’s hands. He succeeds, but gets hit again and again. He takes a moment to step back and take a healing potion.

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A huge earth elemental appears near the enemy cleric, summoned by Jharrath. She tries to dispel the creature, but it hits back and does more damage to the female. With the help of her wand, she disappears from view, but the elemental is not dazes by her act. He pummels down with his bludgeoning fists. Again the hostile cleric disappears.

The wizard directs his attention towards the archer in the blackened silo and ends his life with a fireball. He cautiously finds his way towards the part of the ruin where the scout is battling, but his joy in the successful attack is rather short lived. Once again he takes an arrow and hits the ground, unconscious. Lilith marches towards her fallen brother, receiving more arrows in the process.

Phaedra quickly pours a healing potion down Jharrath’s throat and then faces the male fighter again. Silently she sneaks towards him, moves behind him and comes out of her invisibility. In two well placed attacks, she kills her opponent.

Two new elementals come to Alvra’s aid – the fighter is definitely having a bad day. Together they finally manage to put his bastard sword wielding enemy down.

Silence returns, only disturbed by the panting of the Xaniqos siblings. Of the wounded cleric, not a sign.

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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Test of Lolth

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To Alvra’s relief, two of his javelins can be salvaged. The relief doesn’t last long though, for soon he feels sickened. The others tend to their equipment and investigate the cave.  Then Lilith hears a dark voice inside her head.

Continue your journey alone!

This time she feels she must obey the command. There’s only one way forward. The cleric tries to crawl through the opening, but it is too narrow: she will have to take her armor off. Phaedra helps her sister shed the metal protection. Her way leads upwards and she has to fight her way through debris. Then she finds herself in a small room, fifteen feet in diameter. Something is staring at her, best defined as a swollen tumor, bristling with spider legs. The abomination seems to be in eternal agony. Lilith suspects this is one one she was looking for. There still seems to be some drow awareness left. Contorted by pain it says:

The Spider Queen warned me you would come. You have failed her!

I don’t believe a word you say.

The Shunned lets out a wail of agony – the noise ear splitting – but Lilith is determined and believes wholeheartedly in Lolth. Her faith shines strong and she is not affected by the wail at all. The cleric counterattacks with two darkbolts, but she doesn’t succeed: her spell fails. Mumbling

I knew it, this is my chance,

the creature attacks, but something magical stops her. Frustrated she steps back. Lilith immediately lashes out with her flail, adding extra fire damage, and hits the creature twice. Suddenly a swarm of spiders floods from the Shunned’s mouth. The hairy spiders swarm towards the cleric, but her fortitude proves too strong. The Xaniqos merely shrugs her shoulders and concentrates on her opponent. She calls on her deity to grant her Bebilith Blessing, but again the connection to Lolth seems severed. Nothing happens! The Shunned tries to sink her teeth in the Xaniqos, but misses. The spiders it set loose on the drow swarm all over Lilith, but so far they don’t harm her.

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Another flail attack misses, and the extra bonuses she was granted, also disappear. The Spider Queen does not seem interested in this fight. With her rod of grievous wounds, the drow finally is able to make a statement. The Shunned hisses

Surrender! Lay down your weapon!

but Lilith laughs at her, her resolve is high. To make a statement, she attacks with her flail and scores a hit. The Shunned controlled spiders don’t seem to like that and bite the drow. The Shunned also sinks her teeth in the cleric’s side, but two more flail attacks end that bite feast quickly. Lilith feels sickened though, especially after another attack of the spider swarm. Again the creature bites her and a wave of weakness flows through Lilith’s muscles. Grinding her teeth, she ignores her wounds, takes a tanglefoot bag and aims it successfully at the Shunned: the beast’s movements slow. That gives her the strength to handle her flail again, but before she can get ready for a second attack, the Shunned’ face changes into the image of Phaedra.

Sister, it’s me! This is a trick of the Spider Queen, don’t fall for it!

Lilith’s faith never wavers and with determination she lashes out with her flail, putting her whole strength – at least what is still left – into the attack. She scores a full hit. The creature’s face changes back to the Shunned. Then the spiders disappear and slowly the creature topples forward. She is dead.

The cleric falls down on her knees and bows her head to her deity. Gratitude fulfills her. This time her prayers are answered.

Your faith in me has been very strong, Lilith. You have not doubted me, and you should not. Return to your house and know that you have pleased me.

The bites on her arm transform into a spider mark under her skin. She crawls back through the corridor, where she is greeted by her brothers and sister – they seem happy she made it. When Phaedra helps her don her armor, she notices that Lilith is covered in tiny spider bites, and a mark on her arm is bright red.

In the ghetto, the Xaniqos siblings are not bothered on their way home. They arrive back at the gate, where the Matron Mother already is waiting. She seems pretty interested

Welcome back. You succeeded in the test of Lolth. House Xaniqos is blessed with yet another High Priestess. You make us proud!

Even Quarra realizes the importance and kisses her sister on the cheek, while lady Thandysha kisses the other.

This experience has taught you a lot. Wear this amulet to remind you of that and may Lolth bless you with her eternal wisdom. Go and rest. Next week there will be a party in your honor.

The siblings sleep well that night. When Lilith wakes up, she notices that the wounds on her arm changed into two circles, enclosed by eight smaller dots. It resembles a spider bite, encircled by spider legs.

 

 

Dro… Spide… eh, Driders!

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Another corridor stretches out in front of them, the distance lighted by a queer blue sheen. It could be moss or crystals, which can glow with a soft light. When her brother can’t detect any magical influences, she silently scouts ahead. The corridor broadens into a large hall with massive pillars in the middle, covered in quarts. Ever-burning torches mix the shadows with bluish light. Movement draws Phaedra attention, and she sees a drider hiding behind one of the stone columns. Half drow half spider, the creature seems to guard the place. Often they are fallen clerics or wizards.
Lilith orders Jharrath to summon elementals, and soon three of them appear in front of the hidden drider. But when they lash out, the drider disappears. It was an illusion. The arrow that strikes Phaedra is no illusion though. Arcane phrases call up a lightning bolt, which strikes the earth elementals. Two of the summoned creatures are able to jump aside, the third one vanishes. Phaedra’s eyes follow the lightning’s path back to a plateau.

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Suddenly another spell is cast and a second drider appears, hanging on to a pillar. The lightning ball sizzles straight into the corridor where the Xaniqos are. The scout nimbly jumps aside, while Lilith’s spell resistance enables her to shrug off the effects without any damage. Rolling his muscles, Alvra is fine too, but his brother takes the full brunt of the attack. He’s badly hurt and shakes like a leaf. With a growl, the cleric calls forth dark flames in her hand, ready to use them when she sees an opponent.

Phaedra tumbles past her sister and runs towards the other side of the very large cave.

Jharrath, move!

Frustrated the fighter returns his kukri to his belt, eager to get an overview of the situation. Jharrath steps into the cave and takes up position around the corner, and soon a blur distorts his frame. Alvra follows his siblings and sees the two remaining earth elementals at the foot of the pillar, waiting for the drider to come down from its height. With a threatening yet fluid movement he throws his javelin at the creature and scores a hit. Green pus oozes from the deep wound.

A third drider, bow in hand, climbs down at the far side and only Phaedra notices this new threat. Dark words trickle through the silence, barely audible. They remind her of a spell Jharrath uses more often. She fires her crossbow at the drider, but it disappears. Yet another illusion.

The other driders also take refuge in spells. The beast on the plateau sends forth magic missiles, aimed at the elementals, while the drider on the pillar casts a web at the Xaniqos. When all three easily evade the sticky substance, the drider climbs on top of his perch. Just the thing Lilith has been waiting for. Instantly she launches her dark fire at the drow-spider. Twice the creature gets hit by her sizzling flames and it screams in agony. Then it slowly topples forward, one of Alvra’s javelins embedded in its head.

Jharrath and Lilith, still standing under the cave’s entrance, find themselves under attack by a third drider. The beast had been hiding right over their heads. It lashes out at the wizard with two daggers, and claws scrape over Lilith’s armor – to no avail. Its bite attack also misses.

Leave, priestess, you will fail!

Several voices grind into the cleric’s head.

I will not!

Her determination to bring this quest to a successful end never wavers. She hurls another round of dark flames at the abomination hanging above her head. The flames burn into the creature’s flesh.

You failed the Mistress,

it hisses. The cleric retorts:

Eh, who exactly is the drider here?

after which the beast hangs its head.

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A little stone alerts the scout to impending danger and she quickly turns around. The drider – the real one this time – is surprised by her alert reaction and his arrow misses its target. Phaedra puts her crossbow away and – spiked chain in hand – awaits her opportunity to take out her opponent. The earth elementals come to her aid, only to get hit by lightning. The damage proves too much for one of the elementals. Phaedra again evades the energy bolt. The drider looks very frustrated and shuffles back a little. Immediately the Xaniqos drow lashes out with her chain and pulls big chunks of meat from the beast’s body. Green pus mingles with black blood.

Jharrath teleports, trying to get away from the imminent danger and finds himself face to face with yet another drider. Daggers are raised threateningly, but the wizard sees through the illusion. His arcane knowledge is too extensive to fall for these tricks.

Hurling his last javelin towards the drider that is threatening his mistress, Alvra takes his sword and stands ready. Meanwhile the conversation continues.

You will join us soon, we can’t wait.

Lilith rolls her eyes.

Do you always talk this much?

The beast fires a ray of enfeeblement at the fighter, and immediately Alvra feels his strength seep away, but his brother counters with a spell of his own to nullify the effects. Dark flames shoot from the cleric’s hand, straight into the drider. The smell of burning flesh fills the air and heavily wounded, it hisses in pain. Pondering on how the drider holds on onto the wall, Alvra aimes a tanglefoot bag at the creature. Goo splatters all over the creature. It tries to levitate to safety but is stuck. After retrieving his javelin from the other drider corpse, Alvra throws the weapon at their entangled enemy, while Lilith’s dark flames finally end the life of the beast.

An arrow flies past the wizard’s head. Fed up with the attacks, Jharrath hurls a fireball through the opening of the plateau. An enormous explosion rocks the cavern and they hear a loud scream, then silence.

On the other side of the cave the last drider suddenly jumps down, surprising the scout in the act. The drow falls backwards and the beast is all over her, biting her. Fortunately her natural resistance to poison is sufficient. She gets up quickly and lashes out with her chain. Feebly, the drider tries to counterattack, but its wounds are too severe. With one stroke, Phaedra ends its misery.

Dead silence surrounds them – the fight seems to be over for now. Lilith orders all to gather close and casts a healing circle, while her faith in the Spider Queen strengthens them.

 

In the Lair of the Forsaken

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The four adventurers move through the streets of Erelhei-Cinlu. It’s an interesting district where House Xaniqos roams. The Ghetto of Outcasts harbors various races and professions. The situation for the few poor and sick drow that reside there, is hopeless. The party stays rather unobtrusive. Foreigners are allowed into the district, but they are being exploited. One can quite make a good living as a villain. Still it’s quite ‘safe’.

They walk past inns and dilapidated houses until they reach a dead end: the city wall.

Behold, the entrance to the Lair of the Forsaken,

Alvra says. A five feet wide hole looms black and uninviting.

The Forsaken are mainly priestesses, sorcerers and wizards who have failed Lolth. They have been expelled by their houses. Often they are drow who have been magically punished by turning them into a drider and other lugubrious forms of spiders. Shunned by everyone, these creatures are not allowed into the city.

Phaedra hears the wind howling and feels a draft. It’s pitch black inside. She climbs over the rubble and walks down a slope, followed by her sister. The path slowly goes upwards again, until they reach a wider corridor. The height is enormous. The wind blows right through it, straight towards the Upperdark. Huge pillars take up the middle of the path. Alvra casts dancing lights to see what’s up there. There seems to be no ceiling. The ground is covered in rubble, rocks and boards and it’s dusty and filthy. Jharrath cloaks himself in mage armor.

As the cleric steps forward, Alvra flanks her on the opposite side of the pillar. When the fighter directs his lights in front of them, they see skeletons and humanoid skulls. The bones are cracked and fractured and strewn across the entire floor. Even the skulls are broken. Lilith intently gazes upwards but doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The scout, whose eyes are better, notices long scratches on the smooth walls. It’s quite damp. Moving forward, Phaedra moulders shelves and crushes bones. Further ahead, a small low opening is visible.

Lilith, her crossbow at the ready, stands next to her sister, while the males follow. From the corner of his eye, Alvra sees a movement. It seems like the debris is alive. Then long claws appear from under the bones. They belong to a huge spider, three times as big as the drow, eleven feet in diameter. It’s hard to discern if it has jaws, the legs originate from its center. The creature is probably transformed.

Mistress!

the fighter urgently whispers, ready for action.

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Handmaiden of Lolth

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After freshing up a bit, Lilith heads towards the Xaniqos shrine, accompanied by her siblings. Though deserted at first, soon they are joined by Lady Thandysha, their eldest sister Quarra and many other clerics. In unison they thank the Spider Queen, chanting in a trance.

Suddenly the session is crudely disturbed by a dark and heavy omnipresent voice. Near the altar a Yochlol appears. The form alternates between a big black spider and a pulsating cloud. The voice speaks in Abyssal, a language that both the cleric and the wizard understand. Then the mass changes into a beautiful drow female. She addresses Lilith directly, saying:

The Spider Queen has noticed you. You have been very loyal to House Xaniqos, but not quite enough. You’ll have to prove yourself.

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They all feel that they are in the presence of one of Lolth’s handmaidens. It’s not often that the Spider Queen directs her attention directly to House Xaniqos, and all are affected – even Lady Thandysha. Phaedra cowers in fear, together with the other clerics.

Go to the lair of the forsaken. Kill all in your path and deal alone with the One who is shunned. She wishes to redeem herself to me. Prove your loyaly and strength. Do not fail, or the lair will show you what I do with the ones who fail me. Go now!

With these words the Yochlol changes back into a cloud and then disappears all together. The scout is able to draw breath again, the terror slowly subsiding.

The Matron Mother steps up to her daughter.

This is the final test to become a priestess, Lilith. Everyone must deal with this. You have to face this alone, do not fail me!

Thandysha solemnly looks at her other children.

Do not let her fail. Is she has to sacrifice you all to give the House one more high priestess, then she will.

Quarra echoes her mother’s words and smirks.

Yes indeed, sister, many fail…

Maybe many fail, but I won’t, sister.

Lilith retorts, and then turns around to get her party ready. Alvra takes the looted weapons and armor to the armory and receives new javelins in return. The drow are healed and all fatigue is removed by the clerics. They need to be in tiptop shape before they leave for the Ghetto of the Outcast. The Lair of the Forsaken is situated in the most northern part, the fighter says, an area avoided by the other citizens of Erelhei-Cinlu.

I’ve never actually been there, but I can lead you there.