The Infernal Ghoul

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Standing in the long corridor, Lilith casts a spell and creates a number of semi tangible, visible magical orbs. She sends one of the prying eyes into the cave. It returns shortly to her hand, and in her mind the cleric sees headstones, two mounds of bodies with their belongings intact, armor and weapons. It seems to be a lair. Then the images move towards a very ugly being; a dark goblin or a ghoul. Its battered robe ends in sharp claws and a long tongue protrudes from its mouth. The creature looks extraplanar -maybe undead- and is heavily muscled. Lilith suddenly loses sight of the creature when it jumps from view. The prying eye, its task done, disappears.

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The cleric sends in another eye with the assignment to look out for the monster, and soon it returns, depicting that the ghoul is hiding high up in the stalactites! She gathers her siblings close and, calling out to the Spider Queen, buffs them with three spells. The effect is immediately noticeable: they feel stronger, have a stronger conviction and feel more protected.

A bunch of skeletons rattles near, and Jharrath unleashes a fireball in their midst. A nice explosion destroys five skeletons and anything of value they might have carried on their bodies. When the fire dies out, Phaedra charges down the hallway and damages a skeleton with her spiked chain. Five more stand up and attack the scout. Alvra steps forward and readies for action, but Lilith rebukes the undead. Within sixty feet all flee or cower in fear. Quickly she commands them to attack their master… but since she’s their new master… “Stupid creatures”, she mutters, and crushes bones with her flail.

Suddenly an energy ball streaks towards the Xaniqos, crackling with blue-black substance. The ball expands and Jharrath recognizes it as the evocation chaos hammer. When the chaos hammer hits, the only one who is temporarily affected is the wizard, who stayed behind. He casts darkness behind him and starts moving towards Alvra and Lilith.

Meanwhile Phaedra is battling the skeletons, aided by Alvra. Lilith gives the undead a new command and orders them to go to the master of the cave, but before they can abide, the ghoul appears -seemingly out of nowhere- next to the inadequately protected wizard. Its claw with long sharp nails lashes out and rakes into Jharrath’s flesh. The wizard is paralyzed and the smell of sulfur and soot fills the air. All his magical protection is gone. “I’m saving most of you for later,” the ghoul telepathically transmits to Jharrath, “but for now, just a bite…” Its teeth sink into the drow’s shoulder and start chewing.

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The skeletons, now firmly under command of Lilith, start moving towards the ghoul. The cleric looks up and sees the ghoul, chewing on her brother. She calls upon her deity and sends forth a bolt of cold darkness from her left hand. Overwhelmed by the evil charge of the darkbolt, the beast is momentarily stunned.

Alvra, our foolish brother is being eaten alive! Hurry!

No longer under the ghoul’s influence, Jharrath comes to his senses and soon five mirror images appear next to him, mirroring his every move. Phaedra hears her sister’s call. She steps back and kills the last bone creature near her, then walks back towards Alvra. Together they see six Jharraths, very sick and heavily wounded. Blood oozes from multiple bite wounds, and shards of flesh dangle from his shoulder.

“What’s happening?”, the fighter yells to Lilith, readying for a charge. “Watch out. Ghoul!”, is her reply. As if on cue, the monster shakes off the cleric’s spell. Lilith’s second darkbolt misses, but her flame strike hits the target. Jharrath aids by summoning an earth element, which starts to grapple the ghoulish fiend. The opponents battle back and forth, and the drow tensely watch the fight when suddenly… they disappear. The ghoul has taken the elemental to another plane by shadow walk!

Phaedra takes a defensive stance, waiting for the monster to reappear; Alvra and Lilith ready their weapons. The wizard holds a Kelgore’s firebolt at his command. The siblings are on high alert, but minutes pass and nothing happens. The scout checks out the cave and sees corpses of gnolls, a drow female and a bugbear. Their equipment is near, and Phaedra notices a  large javelin and two black gloves, the former owner’s hands still in them. The items look very good. She’s about to turn around, when she feels a foul presence. A filthy claw rakes through her flesh. She steps back, counterattacks and hits the fiend with a burst of light. The light seems to have no effect though.

Lilith cautiously searches the corridor and draws nearer to the entrance of the cave, a darkbolt sizzling over her hand. Her brothers follow her.

The ghoul takes a step forward and his tongue lashes out, but the drow elf disappears and becomes visible a bit further away. Phaedra calls out to her siblings, and the cleric rushes forward towards the opening. Her dark bolts have dissipated, so she takes out her flail. A large earth elemental appears next to the ghoul, summoned by Jharrath. It grapples the ghoul in close combat, while Phaedra makes a full retreat and runs for the corridor. Alvra stands shoulder to shoulder with Lilith, protecting his mistress. He notices how the ghoul moves without a sound, a real predator.

Their opponent touches the big elemental and again they disappear. Jharrath moves aside to make room for the fighter. Suddenly the beast reappears, surprising Alvra. Its attack hits in full force, and immediately the drow male is paralyzed. His magical defenses and buffs are gone. Again the wizard summons an earth elemental, and it hits the ghoul. When Lilith furiously attacks the beast too, she fumbles, and in stead, the beast hits her. She’s paralyzed as well!

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Jharrath hurls the Kelgore’s firebolt and a shard of red-hot rock streaks through the air, a nimbus of arcane energy crackles around it. It’s a hit. Phaedra looks at the ghoul -nimble and strong- and moves towards it. As her attack fails, the ghoul has no difficulty stepping towards Alvra. It drains energy from the fighter and hacks at him with its claws. Alvra lights go out, and he goes down hard.

While the monster is gloating over its victory, the medium earth elemental bull rushes the ghoul backwards. Quickly Lilith focuses her will and fully heals her fighter brother. Alvra regains consciousness, winks at his mistress and then attacks the ghoul from the ground with his short sword. There is no time or strength left in Alvra to get up. Another Kelgore’s firebolt hits the ghoul, while the scout tumbles through. Again she attacks, but due to the high natural armor and high dexterity, she misses.

The ghoul, bleeding and battered, is now attacked simultaneously from four sides. A grimace distorts its face. It looks around, assesses the situation and, with a mighty jump, scampers away.

The Xaniqos look at each other, panting and dripping blood. The cleric calls her siblings close into a healing circle, with special care for the wizard. When they catch their breath, the fighter and scout set out to investigate the cave. Phaedra a chainmail, shield, cloak and leather armor, all magical, and a sharp dagger. Alvra checks out the items that Phaedra noticed earlier. The javelin is of excellent quality, the head formed like an electric bolt. The black gloves are well made and have a magical aura. He shows the javelin to Lilith, who lets Alvra keep the weapon. She tells the wizard to identify the gloves.

But it will take a long time to…

I said, immediately!

As you wish.

Jharrath bows slightly and prepares his spell. After an hour he reports:

These are gloves of lightning, mistress. Three times a day they can be used in a ranged attack.

They move away from the smelly cave and resume their journey. The terrain climbs slowly, ever upward, and after a long while their path takes a sharp turn. The scout peeks around the corner, very silent, and sees four statues with spiders. She takes a closer look and realizes they are back at the portal! Their relief is short-lived though, when they hear footsteps. Someone’s coming! A familiar hairy face greets them: the draegloth!

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Laergath, what are you doing here?!,

Phaedra exclaims. His pelt is splattered with blood. With a wicked smile, the half demon – half drow replies.

We almost gave up hope and thought you would not come back. Lady Thandysha has sent me to find you. Of all search parties, none have returned. And don’t worry: this blood is not mine. In my search I came upon some others, but they are not looting anymore.

His grin is terrible to witness, the teeth pointed and still red.

I guess your reward will be great. Or your punishment. Come now, I will escort you back to town, because your mother can wait no longer. We have to be careful though. Scouting parties of House Shi’quos and others are still walking around.  House Vae has had no news from their scouts either. And Thorntor is collecting a big army. We have to evade them.

The draegloth accompanies them safely back to Erelhei-Cinlu. His manoeuvres to evade the other searching parties are successful, though it takes them several days to return.

 

 

In the Arms of a Roper

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The Xaniqos walk towards the stairs at the end of the hallway. Phaedra has checked it out earlier, and found out that it leads down to a complex of natural caves. She listens carefully and then signals the others that she will investigate downstairs.

A mausoleum with layers of graves stretches out before her, covered with yellow mold. Suddenly tentacles wrap around her, drawing her towards a beast near the wall, and she feels that her strength is being drained. She is grappled, but not for long! She mumbles something, and with a blinding flash of light, she becomes invisible. The creature is dazzled and the scout manages to escape like a true artist.

In the distance, Lilith sees a stalagmite with one big eye, several long tentacles and a big mouth filled with stone teeth. The wizard can only tell her that the stalagmite is magically enhanced, he thinks it’s a sentient being. With a few gestures, Jharrath calls down a hail of stones on the stalagmite, also hitting Phaedra in the process. Lilith casts a mass shield of faith, aiding her siblings. The roper -for that is what they figure it out to be- sends out ten feet long tentacles towards the Xaniqos, grabbing Jharrath and pulling him towards the beak. The wizard is mangled by the grinding stones, and not a second later, Alvra shares his fate. Lilith’s shield of faith keeps her safe for now.

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Phaedra takes a step back and loses her invisibility, swinging her spiked chain. She hits the roper hard, but is not able to penetrate its skin of stone. While Jharrath activates his dimensional stride boots to get out of the creature’s grasp, reappearing on the stairs, Alvra takes his sword and sticks its magic point into the roper’s eye. Now that it doesn’t like at all. The creature strengthens its hold on the fighter, and Alvra feels his strength diminish. The cleric tries to blind it with a spell, but doesn’t succeed. The roper counterattacks and wraps a tentacle around Lilith’s waist. She’s being pulled forward ten feet, but is still in possession of her powers. The cleric is about to attack with a spell, but again is pulled towards the beast. The maw closes, crunching on the drow’s armor. Lilith hits the beast with her flail, adding fire damage to her attack. She scores a full hit, and the roper is severely hurt and flutters its tentacles.

While Alvra keeps slashing at the living stalagmite, he manages to severe the strand, but a new one appears! His sister plays hide and seek with the beast, though Phaedra is able to escape each time the roper catches her. The wizard creates seven mirror images and launches an earth elemental to help. Immediately, three strands stretch out to grab Jharrath, but all it encounters are fake images. The intense battle rages back and forth, and finally, with a mighty swing of his sword, Alvra kills the beast. Its eye closes forever and it slowly topples forward.

Lilith restores Alvra’s strength with a spell, and heals her sister, so Phaedra is able to scout ahead. She discovers another room with a large statue in the middle. She listens carefully, but hears nothing out of the ordinary Underdark sounds. The statue depicts a large alien-looking beast with big eyes and insect-like mandibles. It looks like an umberhulk. Jharrath can detect no magic coming from the statue, but there is a sort of glyph on the floor, leading towards the umberhulk. The cleric recognizes the deity as Jergal, Guardian of the Tombs. When the elemental walks forward onto the glyph, then even touches the statue… nothing happens. Lilith follows suit, and she passes safely into the next corridor. She sees more graves, but none of the mold they encountered earlier. Her siblings follow her, Phaedra once again taking the lead.
Four huge statues tower over the drow towards the ceiling, with a big image of a spider in their middle. Each statue has a variation of symbols of spider and/or harp, and in front of each figure is a brazier. There’s another riddle waiting for them:

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The Xaniqos think they can solve it, but for that they seem to need a fire. Phaedra realizes she has a club in her backpack. She takes it out and puts it on the ground. Jharrath sets fire to the first brazier in front of the statue with open arms and no spider to the immediate right of the doorway with one of his spells, then takes up the club and uses it to light the one in front of the statue standing with the music instrument and no spider to the immediate left of the doorway. Number three is the statue standing with open arms and spider to the far right of the doorway, and last but not least is the statue standing with harp and spider (to the far left of the doorway). When all braziers burn, the spiderweb unravels, revealing a large space; the doorway has opened up into a portal…

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By land or by sea?

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Warily the Drow again approach the portal, but this time all stays peaceful; seems there are no other drakes around. They lead the lizards through and for a moment, all are totally disoriented. When the sensation passes, they find themselves in a dark cave where several battle ready Kua Toa are waiting for them. When the guards hear that the Drow have been trading with the Duergar, they are allowed to pass. Once again they are back in the dark and gloomy city of Looblishar.

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At the temple they meet Vuon, who leads them to the throne room. In stead of Kerl Ooil, a Drow male is sitting on the throne – the one they met on their way to Dunspeirrin. Lilith tells him she needs passage to Erelhei-Cinlu overland with their cargo. Xothed Trizz ‘Lorlin makes her a better offer:

You can travel overseas, since Vuon is traveling with a big group to Blessed Seahaven anyway.

And how much will the passage cost us?

Because I have a special interest in your group, the passage will be free. All I ask is that I can call on you in the future, where you will have to hold your end of the bargain. The offer stands for two days.

The Cleric thanks Xothed with a curt nod and turns to leave. Vuon leads them outside. The Xaniqos are wary of the offer, but the sea trip will take them four days and by road it will take three weeks. Jharrath asks Vuon if there is a library. There is none, but there is a Kua Toa temple that has recorded history. Phaedra and Jharrath decide to visit it. Many eyes are watching them from the dark. At the temple, a priest dressed in gold reads the old tomes – necklaces made of seashells – to the Drow. On the wall of the moist and wet dome-like room the history of the Kua Toas is depicted in mosaic. The void, the nothingness, is worshiped in these scenes. The Priest tells them that Vuon was challenged to a duel and has won the right to lead the mission to Blessed Seahaven. These heathens need to join our cult, he says. Do you know that Looblishar means ‘Forsaken for Shar’, forsaken until the void comes? After the visit to the temple, the Drow go to the docks to take a look at the barges. Last time there was some activity, but now the port is buzzing with action. There are ten large barges, some of them are being loaded with chests and crates. Many Kua Toas are armed to the teeth. After observing the scene for a while, brother and sister go back to the Inn

Lilith has been questioning the bartender on the subject of the ritual. It seems that this year the ritual to persuade Kua Toas to come to the goddess Shar, is much bigger than usual. When the Clerk mentions the name Kerl Ooil, his expression becomes uncertain, and upon hearing the name of Trizz ‘Lorlin, a look of fear crosses his features. She goes to her room and prays for guidance to the Spider Queen, but the answer remains unclear. The Cleric is inclined to refuse Trizz ‘Lorlin’s offer for now and see how he will react. She doesn’t like to be forced into an uncertain situation and doesn’t trust the male one bit. There must be a catch to his offer.  After a night’s rest, where Jharrath and Alvra keep watch, the Cleric again prays to Lolth and casts a divination spell.

Will it be an advantage to House Xaniqos to embark with the Sharan Kua Toas?

After a long silence, the answer is

You will meet no peril on that journey.

Still rather cryptic, but Lilith makes up her mind: they will go by sea anyway. The extra 2.5 weeks would take too long, they need to get back to their House.

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Phaedra and Lilith go back to the temple and inform Vuon of their decision to board. The Scout emphasizes that whatever happens in Blessed Seahaven, the Drow will be kept out of it! Vuon agrees and tells them to be ready in two hours. They pay the inn keeper and walk towards the port. Two barges are packed with cargo, three others are filled with slaves who carry crude weaponry, like javelins and spears. Three barges are still empty; it seems those are for the Xaniqos and their lizards. The animals are lead onto the barges – four per barge – and secured, while eight Hobgoblin slaves man the oars. Around fifty Kua Toas are in the water, swarming around the vessels. At the plateau above, the Drow male has appeared to see them off, accompanied by humanoids in cloaks. Vuon lifts his scepter and cheers, and is answered by the gathered Kua Toas – the exodus has begun.

The Portal

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The Matron Mother eagerly awaits their return, so the four siblings leave the Steelshadow mansion as soon as they have rested a bit, the men carrying the treasure chest and Phaedra holding on to the gems. They only stop at the Hammer & Anvil Inn to pick up their lizards. The beasts seem to be in excellent condition. They thank Ivar for taking good care of their animals and then set out into the Underdark, riding the big reptiles in single file. 

The Xaniqos cross the bridge, looking imposing but none too glorious. The Cleric is wearing shards of her burned robe and ill fitting dwarven armor. Still she likes the feeling of riding above the crowds in the streets; it is rather comfortable to travel this way. Alvra is an excellent rider and Phaedra and Jharrath also manage quite well. The lizards stay calm and are well trained, even in the ruckus of the busy bridge. They travel to the south of the town and set out into a remote area, south-east of Dunspeirrin. With the map, Lilith leads the way to the portal that will take them back to Looblishar and consults her sister every now and then to double checks if they still head in the right direction. Their mounts don’t seem to tire and the Underdark passages provide enough insects and fungi to feed them.

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After a while the path gets rougher and it leads them towards a passage: an arc, twenty feet wide and very high. It is surrounded by walls and there’s no other way to pass than underneath the arc. It seems like they have arrived at the portal. The siblings stop at a safe distance and first take a short break. They secure the lizards there. When they proceed towards the arc, their vision is blurred, the closer they come to the entrance. At ten feet distance, there seems to be a streaming curtain of mercury in front of it and at five foot distance it resembles a mirror. Suddenly a mouth, then a head becomes visible in the mercury mirror, though nothing else happens.

Lilith tries out several passwords, like ‘Looblishar’ and ‘Steelshadow’, but to no avail. Then her sister says ‘We want passage’ in Duergar. A voice answers from afar and tells them they first need to solve ten riddles. Seven will grant them passage, ten means passing without harm.

Question 1:
I can have no color, though there may be darkness within. I have no weight and hold nothing, and if placed in a container it becomes lighter.

The Drow decide on the answer Space, which alas is incorrect. The correct answer was Hole.

Question 2:
Of all your possessions, I am the hardest to guard. If you have me, you will want to share me. If you share me, you no longer have me.

To their delight, they have the right reply now: Secret.

Question 3:
Alive as you but without breath, as cold in my life as in my death; never a thirst though. I always drink dressed in a mail but never a cling.

Again they know the correct answer: Fish.

Question 4:
I am free for the taking through all of your life, though given but once at birth. I am less than nothing in weight, but will fell the strongest of you if held.

Their answer is assessed as positive: Breath.

Question 5:
They flow and leap, but only as you pass. Dress yourself in darkest black, and they are darker still. Always they flee in the light, though without the sun there would be none.

And again: Shadows.

Question 6:
They come to witness the night without being called, a sailor’s guide and a poet’s tears. They are lost to sight each day without the hand of a thief.

Their fifth good answer: Stars.

The Xaniqos breath a little easier at this point. But then…

Question 7:
The more that there is, the less that you see. Squint all you wish when surrounded by me.

After a long discussion, the Drow decide on Mist, but the voice tells them the answer should have been Darkness. They have only one mistake to spare to gain access to Looblishar, and the tension grows worse.

Question 8:
The life I lead is mere hours or less, I serve all my time by being consumed. I am quickest when thin, slowest when fat, and wind is the bane of the gift that I bring.

The answer Candle is correct!

Question 9:
A spirited jig it dances bright, banishing all but darkest night. Give it food and it will live, give it water and it will die.

Though their solution Flame is on the track, the right and only answer is Fire. No more mistakes!

Question 10:
Lighter than what I am made of, more of me is hidden than is seen, I am the bane of the mariner, a tooth within the sea. Speak my name.

Fortunately they manage to solve this riddle together, and tell the voice it’s Ice. And that is correct.

They have gained access! The mouth says ‘You may pass’ and then disappears. All that is left is a void. Alvra mounts his lizard and Phaedra takes hold of the others, which are connected by a rope. When the portal doesn’t open and nothing else happens either, Lilith walks towards it… and sees a small thorny head poking through that looks malignantly at her. When she consults the Wizard about the creature, Jharrath tells her that it reminds him of a portal drake, small dragons that live in and near portals. They love to attack travelers who use the portals. Seems he is right.

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The little creature flies from the portal, accompanied by two other drakes. They are light gray, four feet long and have razor sharp teeth, as the Cleric is about to find out. One of them is attracted by Lilith’s weapon and it bites her arm. Another uses its spell-like ability and shimmers in the air. They converse in Draconic, figuring out some kind of strategy, and laugh in anticipation.

Jharrath summons a salt mephit and orders it to attack one of the drakes with a ten feet cone of salt crystals. Though its victim is angry, it doesn’t seem hurt. Alvra’s javelin has more effect and hits one of the portal drakes. It counterattacks with a cone gas attack from its snout, but stops when it is hit by a bolt from the Scout’s crossbow. The animal is not amused. Another gas attack hits the Fighter and the Salt Mephit, and both feel weaker and seem to lose strength. Lilith’s flail scores a hit on the one that has been gnawing her arm.

Suddenly there are four drakes where first there was only one; seems they know the spell Mirror Image as well as Blur. Alvra takes his two-edged sword and steers his lizard towards the drake that is hovering over him. His mount attacks with its claws and all of a sudden the mirror images disappear: the attack has taken the drake by surprise. Now all go into a frenzy to hit each other but they alll miss. When the salt mephit’s opponent evades its attacks, the Drow Wizard sends a Kelgore’s Firebolt. Try to evade that! He wounds one of the drakes heavily and it warns the others about Jharrath. Seems like they are magical creatures indeed.

Lilith is still fighting ‘her’ drake and hits it well with her flail and a fire burst. In reaction the beast again bites her shoulder and its teeth sink deep into her skin. Big mistake! Enraged, the Cleric beats the creature to pulp, while another Firebolt finishes off Jharrath’s opponent. Alvra’s lizard strikes with its claws and takes down the last drake from the air. The Drow Fighter cuts the body into tiny pieces before it hits the ground and then jumps down to retrieve his javelin.

The portal is clear!

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