Claws and Fangs

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Phaedra continues down the corridor, her sister right behind her. She opens the door and moves into the room. Suddenly the floor is lit with a blue glow. With a thunder clap and a lightning flash, two huge felines appear, bigger and more beautiful than lions. The celestials roar a challenge and attack. The scout immediately teleports to a safer place, while Jharrath casts his protecting mage armor. A cross bow dart, shot by Lilith, zips into the room, but does no visible damage and falls harmless to the ground. Alvra moves towards the front of the fight, while Phaedra tumbles backwards, exiting the room. The cats follow, roaring ferociously, and lash out at the scout with their mighty claws. Quickly Jharrath utters a spell and manages to get rid of one of the lions by dispelling its magic.

Alvra charges the remaining cat and hits it with his second attack. The slash doesn’t really permeate the skin, but he manages to damage it a bit. Phaedra hits it hard twice with her spiked chain. And when the celestial lion tries to counterattack, it gets slaughtered by a combined effort of the drow.

When the sisters re-enter the room, they find four sarcophagi. Phaedra removes the lid of the first. There’s an old skeleton, wearing a nice necklace with moonstones. The second sarcophagus is empty, but in the third, Lilith finds a skeleton with a short magic spear in his hand, the spear head glowing blue with white tendrils. In his other hand is a wand. The cleric takes both objects and shows them to Alvra. He has no time to examine them closely so tucks them into his backpack. In the last sarcophagus, Lilith finds a gold necklace.

Back in the hallway, Phaedra moves towards the next door. It is sealed, plastered shut, and no one has visibly tampered with it. When the female drow pushes against the door, a force flows through her hand and drains the life out of her. Suddenly it gets very cold. Phaedra feels like she has barely escaped with her life. Her sister detects a residue of magic on the door, and a strong magic force in the middle of the room, several lesser points around it. Jharrath summons a medium earth elemental, which he orders to vigorously attack the door. The creature pounds on the door with his massive arms, and soon plaster is falling down, while one after the other thump resounds down the corridor. Soon the door is in pieces.

In the middle of the room a large statue of a regal looking female drow. She’s wearing an elegant gown and has a commanding attitude. Behind her are two doors, as are to the side of the room. Lilith keeps focusing and notices that the magical aura moves into the statue. She warns the others and they ready, tense.

A female voice, shrill and high, utters an unintelligible sentence, aggressively repeating one word in particular. The cleric replies that they don’t understand her, first in Undercommon, then in Drow. The creature in the statue doesn’t react to her words and again repeats the threat. Then a ghost with a terrifying face appears over the elemental. It is the image of someone who died a long time ago, and it has nothing of the statue’s beauty. Before the drow are able to take a good a look at it, the image disappears again.

I think it is the ghost of someone of importance, buried here,

Jharrath says, when suddenly the statue’s hand rises. It attacks the elemental – which is not very impressed though. The mage orders his creature to counterattack, and successfully. A lesser orb of acid finishes the job, and the statue crumbles. In its place a surreal shape of a ghost rises that looks very insistent at the drow. It is like her gaze pierces their souls. The apparition hovers incorporeal above the floor.

Alvra lashes out with the magical side of his sword, but the strike moves through the ghost’s body. When the elemental’s fist also passes harmlessly, Jharrath attacks with a magic missile. Calling upon the Spider Queen, the cleric rebukes the undead, but to no avail. The creature is too strong. Phaedra tumbles into the room and each time the ghost tries to attack her with her incorporeal rapier, the scout teleports ten feet away. The ghost hisses in frustration. Alvra’s sword then scores a hit, and a magic missile does even more damage. Again Lilith rebukes the creature, and this time the old crow is frightened and cowers before the cleric. She withdraws into a corner of the room, unable to act. And while Lilith keeps a threatening eye on the apparition, her siblings attack the undead. As yet another magic missile finds its goal, the ghost disappears with a last frustrated cry of outrage.

A damn good fighter, but easily confused

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The naga’s body lies still at their feet, defeated after an intense battle. Phaedra climbs the plateau and releases the Astral Shard. The gem loses some of its luster and suddenly it becomes very quiet. The scouts shows the stone to her brother, and Jharrath detects very strong magic in it.

This gem is used as a conductor, a source of magic; it contains lots of energy. This is a very powerful item. Alvra, the person we are obtaining it for, is he a very good friend of our House?

The fighter confirms this, and adds that only a few can use it.

Hmmm OK. But I’d like to use this tower for myself.

We will let our Matron Mother decide, Jharrath!

Lilith says. She proceeds by healing and strengthening her siblings some more, and then walks to the serpent’s corpse. Carefully removing one of the creature’s fangs, she taps the glands and stores the poison in her backpack.

On their way down, they notice that the room with the silver strands is empty. Apparently the removal of the Astral Shard has stopped the energy flow. The ice ball in the room, one level lower, is slowly melting, dripping. Its defense mechanism is still operational though, and the cleric is hit by a cold ray. The others pass safely, and soon they are standing in the room with the map of the Earth Nodes. The nodes’ radius touches the Isle of Scribes, which explains why the magic is so strong here. Jharrath rolls the map carefully and stashes it in a container. They also find a a potion of invisibility, forty platinum pieces, a pearl necklace and ten stones with a kind of braille script on it. Perhaps a mind flayer script? Jharrath takes a moment to thank the cleric for saving his life.

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On the lower level, the umber hulks are making a lot of ruckus. Lilith orders the wizard to summon elementals and deal with the situation. Jharrath takes out a candle, says an incantation and calls up a large earth elemental.

Go downstairs and lure the beasts away from the staircase.

The elemental glides through the stone floor and – judging from the noises that arise – lands smack on top of one of the umber hulks. All hell breaks loose, and the drow hurriedly walk down the stairs. Just as Alvra passes the room, one of the umber hulks looks up and focuses on the fighter with its four-eyed gaze. Alvra’s eyes glaze over, but he continues towards the opening on ground level.

Suddenly he steps forward, rudely pushes his brother to the side and takes off towards the exit. Jharrath and Lilith understand what has happened and the cleric unleashes a spell to free Alvra from the umber hulk’s influence. The fighter chatters a bit. Lilith hauls on his arm and leads him towards the opening. The fresh air seems to snap him out of it, but a moment later, his eyes go wild again and he attacks his cleric sister!

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Barely holding a leash on her temper, Lilith slaps Alvra hard in the face.

Come to your senses, man!

The male drow babbles incoherently.

With a hard shove, she pushes him in the right direction and after a while, Alvra is back to normal. Lilith sets a brisk pace and pointedly ignores her brother. He follows like a beaten dog.

They arrive safely at House Xaniqos, where the next day, the cleric makes sure both her brothers regain their lost abilities by use of restoration spells. Jharrath takes the time to thoroughly examine the gem necklace Phaedra found in the iron chest: it is a necklace of fireballs, with four charges left.

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.

Chwidencha

Trouble in the Ghetto of the Dead

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The next couple of days are spent in relaxation. The Drow have brought home quite an impressive loot and each sibling is amply rewarded. Four days later, being healed, bathed, rested and fed, they are once more called towards the hall of House Xaniqos. The eldest daughter Quarra is also present, though she doesn’t look too happy. Matron Mother Thandysha and her consort Taldinyon make an exotic pair. To their surprise, Thangarth and a group of Duergar are there too, the Draegloth at their side. His big scythe is still covered in blood. It seems like the company didn’t have an easy journey traveling to the Xaniqos mansion.

Artwork: SLefor

Lady Thandysha welcomes all and tells her children that the Duergar emissaries have been invited to establish a trade between the two parties. And since the four had a part in bringing about the contact, they are welcome to participate in the negotiations. The Duergar will stay in the city for one week. An agreement is reached about buying mithril for creating weapons and other items. When Phaedra replies in Duergar, the Draegloth seems pleasantly surprised. They talk a bit and he tells her she can find him in The Black Chalice if she ever needs him.

We won’t be staying there, we will find a place of our own!

Thangarth says. He doesn’t seem too eager to lodge in a place owned by a vampire, where undead frequent and narcotics are abound. The Xaniqos Scout advises him to try out the Knuckle Bones Inn – many guards and owned by a dwarf – or Teeson’s Roaming House. This facility seems to shift around a lot, which makes it an interesting place, but more dangerous. The latter seems to appeal to the Duergar’s sense of excitement and there might even be a bunch of kobolds to lighten up the place.

The Matron Mother looks at Phaedra, a disgusted expression on her face.

You speak that vile language?

Well, it’s useful for the trading relation, right?

Phaedra retorts.

The days, during which Lilith orders her Wizard brother to make more anti-toxins, go by quietly. After a full tenday K’yorl asks them to follow him into his study. They head up towards the large tower room, which is packed with alchemy sets, books and vials. They are filled with eye balls, powders, feathers and all kinds of other stuff. A neat personal collection, according to Jharrath.

Please, take a seat. House Xaniqos needs your assistance in a new task. It’s only a week before the Council meets again. And though we have dealt a good blow against House Shi’quos, they are on the move again. They seem to be in alliance with the Dod King and try to expand by taking over the Ghetto of the Dead. Rumors are that here is a group under the city, ruled by three principles. The entrance to this Undercity is guarded by at least one ogre, maybe more. House Eilservs is weak. The undead are not under control anymore, ghouls attack at random and other forces are moving up.

Will House Eilservs be punished for letting the Ghetto go out of control?

Be assured that the House indeed will be ‘entertained’ elsewhere, Jharrath.

The siblings agree to meet at The Black Chalice.

Web Strands

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The Xaniqos Drow make their way out of the city and pass the same Priestess who granted them access earlier. She does look surprised. The new outfits have their effect: people look with respect at them and make way. They soon arrive at the City Gates and head north. The route takes them through inhospitable sceneries with less and less traffic and rumors are that further ahead there is a large empire of Undead north of the Dead Wastes. Geographically, the area is changing rapidly. The road becomes narrow and high walls enclose them. Caves are everywhere, some used, some old.

Phaedra keeps a steady lookout for signs of the fight and when they arrive at the scene, she notices that most tracks of the caravan have been erased. A broken cart, demolished with great force, is all that is left. Behind her, the Scout sees the cliffs where Erelhei-Cinlu has been built against. This side of the cliffs is very high, covered in deep gravel that leaves no traces behind. Most caves in the area are inhabited by small tribes, but these specific ones are too high. Only insects would live in the ones on the lowest level. When Phaedra examines the cart, she discovers pieces of web strands. Seems like someone has been trying to hide them. Jharrath casts a spell to determine if magic has been used, but the spell comes up negative.

Is the lizard able to climb this slope, Alvra?

the Clerc asks. The Fighter is fairly sure of it and steers his mount up the pebbles. The others follow as quiet as possible. When they are almost at the top of the hill, they see the head of a Goblinoid. It raises the alarm.

Intruders!

Bugbears

Alvra quickly urges his lizard forward to get a better grip on the unstable ground, and at the top encounters two surprised Bugbears. They don’t even get a chance to load their crossbows. Next to them is a form that looks like a human spider; a half Humanoid with legs and poison glands. The Drow immediately attacks one of the Bugbears and calls out to warn his brother and sisters. When Phaedra arrives at the top of the slope, she grabs her spiked chain and lashes out at the second Bugbear, killing it with one hit. The first Bugbear panics, throws down its bow and bolts, trying to reach the safely of the cave. Alvra sees his chance and lashes out with his sword, while his lizard finishes the job. Two dead Bugbears are lying still at their feet.

The other two Drow are still trying to reach the top of the slope, but Lilith’s armor is rather heavy and she concentrates on putting one foot before the other. When Jharrath sees the half Humanoid, he recognizes it as an Aranea, the result of a magical Drow experiment. The Aranea is a spellcaster like the Wizard. After a tactical retreat, it disappears into the cave.

Aranea

The black maw of the cave opens up to reveal a path sloping upwards. Thought there are less pebbles than outside, the ground is still not suited for a charge. Alvra grabs his javelin and hurls it after the Aranea. When he follows with the Scout, smears of blood tell them that it is wounded. Be careful with this creature, the Wizard says, it is a Shapeshifter, beware of its spells. Further up, the cave widens and becomes higher. The Humanoid disappears into the distance. It is very dark and the floor of the cave is made of irregular stone.

Lilith, who has finally managed to make it to the top, walks into the corridor and goes after the Aranea. The trail of green red blood is still visible. Seated on his lizard, Alvra climbs the walls and manages to get in front of the Shapeshifter, but at the same moment he feels resistance, web strands touching his face. The Drow and his lizard try to break loose and warn the other Xaniqos about the webs, when two monstrous spiders sink down from the ceiling. Behind them a third spider-like shape appears, smaller than the others. It has long arms and a spider head. With one of his spells the Wizard tries to aid his brother by spreading a layer of acid underneath the spiders. When one of the spiders reaches the ground, the acid bites into its feet. Together, the Scout and the Cleric stand ready, while the Aranea casts mage armor on himself. A massive fight is about to start…

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A banquet, new piwafwis and… a new quest!

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The Lady Thandysha looks even more ravishing than before. She’s wearing elaborate expensive jewelry and an exposing outfit that leaves only very little to the imagination. The siblings are glad they have changed into noble clothing too. The Matron Mother enters with a pleasant demeanor and is accompanied by the pompously dressed House Wizard K’yorl. She is pleased to meet the travelers again and says

Welcome back, sons and daughters. You have returned at the right time. Things have quieted down since you left, and though we should still be wary, it is time for a great banquet. We have further established to be one of the top Eight ruling houses now.

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She walks them to the dining room, where K’yorl, Quarra and Taldinyon join them.

Please sit, you have performed well enough. Due to extensive work on my part but with a little nudge from you saving the House Vae male, House Vae has reopened negotiations with us. Your role in these development was, more by accident, helpful. But why have you only returned with ten lizards? That’s no army. Are there more to come? And did you have to arrive as beggars? Your attires have to change now our House is moving up.

Of course we will dress accordingly to the status of our House now we’re back again, Lady Thandysha,

Lilith says,

but our outfits were functional for what we had to do on our travels. The funds you generously provided us with got us the riding lizards. They are in excellent condition and have proven their worth on the road.

The dinner continues in a pleasant way. One of the servants comes to the table, holding a familiar chest jingling with gold pieces, and reports to the Matron Mother that it was found on one of the lizards. Lilith quickly tells him to take the chest to the treasury and add the gold to the House funds.

Quarra looks at Alvra, who is wearing his Gnashing armor.

What a grotesque outfit.

Excuse me, Mistress, as a male perhaps I don’t know how to dress properly?

Nobody taught you? I will!

With this tempting promise, they continue eating. When the dinner has been concluded, Lady Thandysha asks them to follow her to the Throne Room.

You shall all dress as nobles from now on. I have ordered new piwafwis for all of you, since someone has lost hers…

Lilith tries to bite back her mumbled Yes, but for a good cause!

I presume you still have your house brooches? I know you just arrived, but I have a mission for you to perform, since you returned sooner than expected. Recently one of our caravans has been waylaid along the merchant route. We have been unable to follow the tracks after they lead to one of the higher caves, but perhaps you can. The ambushers didn’t come from the city. Make sure we are not bothered by them again! We don’t involve the city guard and the goods can be carried back. The tracks were found north of Erelhei-Cinlu in a very inhabitable area with small roads and many caves, high on the rim. The goods are silk, piwafwis and a very special cloak for my consort. It HAS to be retrieved.

When did this happen, Matron Mother, how old are the tracks?

The attack occurred one day ago, Phaedra.

Can Alvra take a lizard, Lady Thandysha?

Yes, Lilith, he may, but bring them back in one piece. Alvra has a leading roll to fulfill in showing these lizards after.

They all receive funds to spend on their outfit and Lilith is allowed to take a new mail from the armory. Taldinyon provides them with their new piwafwis: made of silk, they are very beautiful and don’t hamper their movements at all. There’s a gray hue over the inside of the cloak, where their House insignia – the bolt – has been applied. The piwafwi’s outside shimmers when the light falls upon it. Jharrath recognizes them as magically enhanced cloaks of elemental resistance.

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The silver light suddenly reminds the Cleric of mithril and she strides back towards the Throne Room.

Pardon me, Lady Thandysha, but there is one more thing I wanted to tell you. We have initiated a possible deal with the Steelshadow Clan from Dunspeirrin, Phaedra can better inform you about the details but we await your approval to further negotiate.

The Matron Mother nods thoughtfully and tells her that she will ask Phaedra for more information.

Thank you, Lilith. That piwafwi looks good on you. As for the cloak that you are about to retrieve: it is very important to us, so do not fail. There are only three Cloaks of Consorts in the whole Drow world. Our prestige will go up because of this artifact and I have spent much money on it. If it doesn’t return, do not bother to return yourself.

When Lilith asks what distinguishes this garment from others, Thandysha describes it as a very light cloak that looks almost boringly gray, but the moment it is held up to the light, it shimmers and absorbs any light. It is highly sought after by the other Houses.

The Clerc bows and heads back to Taldinyon and her sister and brothers. On request, she is granted a satchel with six potions of healing. These potions will return your health in a reasonable amount, the Weapon Master says. Lilith gives a potion to each sibling and keeps the other three. They change into their travel outfits, get their packs and continue to the stables to pick up Alvra’s lizard. Back on the road so quickly…

Creepy Creeps

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House Xaniqos has calmed down a bit. Occasionally the Lady Thandysha falls into a fit of rage, but is mostly taking it out on her eldest daughter, Quarra. One morning, the Xaniqos siblings walk into K’yorl, the house wizard, who is dressed in an expensive robe.

I hear Jharrath has had an interesting business proposition in which I’m quite interested. I would advice you to check it out as soon as possible!

Jharrath has been talking to Tylesse, a merchant who trades in potions and alchemy items and ingredients. His supply caravan has been ambushed near a cave complex and the only survivor mentioned a big reptile as culprit. If the drow are able to get the bag with ingredients back and punish the perpetrator, House Xaniqos will get a 30% discount. A good deal.

The four set out into the Underdark and reach the crime scene. A huge cave opens up for them, revealing four entrances. It is silent in the cave, the only sound is water dripping. A perfect environment for lizards, salamanders, small vipers and vermin.

Lilith orders her brother to check out the various entrances. The first and second cave are small, with patches of the ever present fungi. When Alvra is about to enter the third cave, the scout warns him. Clicking sounds indicate the presence of large vermin. In the middle of the large bare cave is a nest with two cockroaches. The stench is overwhelming but the Fighter goes in anyway. Phaedra signals the others to come closer and together – in between several gagging fits – they attack the huge insects. Alvra kills both creatures.

In the last cave the company is faced with a stream that leads to the right, with a smaller tunnel on the left. More clicking sounds resonate against the walls. The Cleric tells her Wizard brother to summon an elemental and check out the water. After its appearance, Phaedra follows close on the summoned creature’s heels. The elemental kills the approaching cockroach in two massive blows and the company moves forward. They all wade into the tunnel, past the insect’s carcass, towards the fourth beast. With magic missiles, Kellgore’s firebolt and heavy pummeling, they manage to slay the cockroach. Will there never be an end to this vermin? Another big beetle scuttles close and again it is Alvra who slashes it to smithereens. Lilith, not displeased with her brother’s performance, heals most of the Fighter’s wounds.

Down the tunnel, in a relatively dry part of the cave, they find rotting material, some bones, a purse filled with gold and two tanglefoot bags. The Cleric gives one of the bags to Alvra. A pool of water lies stagnant in the center of the cave. When Lilith looks closer, she sees movement on the surface, but assumes it is caused by the moisture that is dripping down the walls.

Then they discover five relatively fresh kobold skulls and a very fresh goblin head. A masterwork chainmail lies close, flanked by a magical sword. Three skulls are arranged into a shrine; Lilith doesn’t know any religion that uses this kind of display. Suddenly Phaedra warns her siblings of a new threat: a predator sound arises from the water. A large crablike insect emerges from the pool, with dark hungry eyes, mandibles and tentacles, quivering around the beast’s maw. It is a very fast moving crustacean, that clicks its two big pincers.

The beast tries to grapple Jharrath and the Wizard activates a grease spell and attempts to  free himself, but the crustacean wraps his tentacles around him, totally paralyzing Jharrath. The same fate awaits the Cleric. Phaedra manages to chop off one of the tentacles – her brother drops to the ground – but then gets grabbed by the beast herself. Before it can act any further, Alvra kills the monster with a huge hit. Phaedra lands gracefully and checks on her brother and sister. Both are not moving, Jharrath on the verge of death. When he comes by, they offer him a healing potion. Soon after, Lilith also gains consciousness.

Behind the pile of skulls, they find a big bag with ingredients and several potions. Jharrath confirms it is the stuff they were searching for and starts taking tiny samples from the ingredients. Phaedra scolds him and tells him to put them back.

Bloodied and injured, they make their way back to the city and search for merchant Tylesse at the market. The nobles stare at the group and the Cleric glares back. Merchant Tylesse is impressed and tells them she is in debt of House Xaniqos. They have earned their 30% discount on all wares and receive two potions of holy water and two bottles of accid. Then the siblings head back to the mansion, exhausted and filthy. The masterwork chainmail and magic short sword are donated to the armory, though the Cleric keeps the gold pieces. Jharrath finds out that the beast was a Chuul, a predator that has the custom to keep trophies – if nothing else can be found, they will keep the skulls of their victims.

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