Blood moss

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Back at the Xaniqos mansion, they quickly pack and set out on their second task: collecting blood moss. According to the map, there are three options for their travels: follow the inner sea, travel through the swamps or take the broader but longer trading route. They decide on the latter.

As always, Phaedra scouts ahead. Their trek through Erelhei-Cinlu isn’t very eventful, and Phaedra finds them a fine route in between the Upper and Middle Underdark. They pass many caves and spend the night in an uninhabited one. Lilith takes first watch and her sister the second, but nothing happens.

On the second day, the scout spots two very big humanoids in the distance, who move awkwardly. When she focuses, she sees that the figures are twice the size of a drow, and are covered in spines. She returns to the others, and the cleric decides to move back to a side corridor they passed earlier. No use in engaging in a confrontation if it is not necessary. Alvra casts darkness in the corridor to hide them. Soon they hear heavy footsteps passing, and the jingle of armor.

Phaedra waits until the sounds fade completely and sets out in the direction of their goal. They arrive at a wide high cave, illuminated by the fungi. The ground stretches before them, soft and packed with dense moss. Jharrath informs them that they probably should find a smaller cave for locating the blood moss.

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They follow airborne spores towards their origin and find the entrance to a cave complex. The ground turns wetter and kind of oozy. “We’re getting closer,” the wizard whispers. The entrance is about 5 feet wide. When Phaedra passes, she notices that mushrooms react to her presence by releasing even more spores. She treads carefully. Soon the cave becomes wider, and there’s a path winding through. The vegetation is becoming wilder, with jelly and spores. The scout steps into a puddle of green gunk, that quickly changes into a gelatinous cube. It tries to trap her, but her quick reflexes save her.

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Lilith walks past the stuff, deeper into the cave, keeping her distance from the green ooze. Jharrath takes out a candle and summons an earth elemental. The stone beast pummels the jelly. The acid splashes but doesn’t harm the elemental. Phaedra knows her weapons are vulnerable to the acid, so she tumbles back and looks around, searching for blood moss. She moves on towards the next cave. Alvra stays in the original corridor and keeps checking the main hall.

The cube reaches for the cleric, and quickly she jumps aside. Lilith calls forth a darkbolt, but it fizzles out. Again the ooze reaches for her, but the earth elemental pummels the creature until once again it is a harmless looking puddle. Jharrath signals “It might be dead, but I can’t be sure.” He orders the elemental to step on the ooze. Nothing happens; it is indeed beaten.

Phaedra turns another corner. Fungi grow thick and high on the walls, and some kind of path meanders through the space. There’s a heap of rotting vegetation in the middle. And it moves! Jharrath steps forward to stand next to Phaedra, and they are joined by the elemental. the wizard recognizes the mound with vegetation arms: a huge shambling mound, fungi colored.

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It is intelligent, carnivorous and predatory. Two huge, armlike appendages stretch towards Phaedra, wrap around her and slam her against the ground. Then they grapple her and pull her towards the mound. Lilith moves forward and shoots searing lights into the beast. It won’t release her sister though. Phaedra can’t get loose but keeps attacking the tentacles. Jharrath moves out of the earth elemental’s way and fires his wand of scorching rays at the huge plant. The shambling mound slowly squeezes the life out of Phaedra, so Lilith steps closer and heals her sister. Working together, Jharrath, the elemental and the scout attack the same tentacle. It unwraps itself, too damaged to hold on, but the other appendage is still squeezing. Again Lilith casts a healing spell, now affecting her whole party positively. Finally, after a charge from Alvra, more searing lights of the cleric, and a new elemental attacking, Phaedra can tumble away from the monstrous plant. Pummeled by the elemental, burned by Jharrath scorching rays and an attack by Alvra’s sword, the beast finally lies down and dies. Lilith again has to heal Alvra, who is badly wounded by the fight, plus hands him a very strong healing potion.

Lilith buffs her siblings with a strong conviction spell, which should raise their resilience. Behind the remains of the shambling mound, they see red fungi. It looks like the blood moss they are after, but it is not dense enough. Mist wafts on the underground current, phosphorescent fungi and red moss is all around. Phaedra again takes the lead.

At the side of the room, huge mushrooms grow from the wall. There is moss in every color. The smell of lemon, bread, and decay is heavy on the air. Then another cave opens, with at the far end a thick blanket of blood moss. The room seems poisonous. There are a lot of spores afloat in the air. And when the spores almost settle on the ground, another gust of wind blows them into the air once more.

The drow halt at the entrance of the blood moss cave. The earth elemental is unaffected by the floating spores and walks in. Suddenly tentacles shoot from a heap of leaves. Another shambling mound, though this one is slightly smaller and doesn’t have a fungi color. The elemental gets into a fight with the plant and, aided by the drow, kills it. Quickly Jharrath summons more elementals and places them at strategic points throughout the room. At the back, a third mound appears and captures one of the elementals. Lilith and Phaedra take out their crossbows and shoot at the plant.

Yet another creature appears at the back of the room: a huge glistening treelike creature, oozing acid. Phaedra doesn’t recognize it, beyond that it seems to be a sentient being.

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The creature attacks the elementals, and Lilith immediately counters with a flame strike. A column of fire roars down on top of the ent, and one of Alvra’s javelins scores a hit. The creature roars and releases a 60 feet cone of spores, enveloping the cleric, wounding her severely. She retreats to heal herself, while her siblings keep up the fight with crossbow, spiked chain, javelin, sword and kellgore’s fire bolts. When she is recovered enough, the cleric calls down another flame strike on the treant. She then attacks the respawning shambling mound with her flail and does extra fire damage. Three more summoned earth elementals kill the vegetation.

Alvra is under attack and becomes engulfed in the tree-like being, the roots dealing acid damage. Lilith attacks the ent with her flail and the added fire damage sets the ent ablaze, which ends its life. An almost respawning shambling mound withers and dies.

190309redmossIn the treant’s carcass, they find a drow mission blade, that has protection against acid.
Lilith and Alvra leave the spores zone, where Lilith does a full heal on Alvra. Jharrath, Alvra, and Phaedra shovel the blood moss in a bag. They search the remains of the shambling mounds and find a collection of gold and gems – obviously of no use to these creatures.

 

The Temple of Blessed Seahaven

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With full backpacks and a new supply of healing potions and wooden stakes, the siblings set out to Blessed Seahaven. After a couple of hours, they arrive at the large lake. Two kua-toas guard the stone arch that leads to the lake. Soon the peace and quiet will be over, so Lilith buffs Alvra with a strength spell, while she casts Iron silence on her own armor.

Phaedra races towards the kua-toas and attacks one of them with her spiked chain. The guard falls down and cries out in pain, heavily wounded. Before the other can react, Alvra’s javelin pierces his torso. A volley of magic missiles and an agile scout end the short fight.

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The drow find a raft and silently peddle towards the temple. Several fins, belonging to sharks, break the surface –one very big, the others smaller– but nothing happens, and soon they arrive at the temple shore. They secure the raft and follow Phaedra to the secret door. A big-shouldered kua-toa patrols the premises -probably a monitor- while another watches the water. Quickly the cleric casts a spell to help them avoid the effect of possible harmful spells.

The scout kills one of the monitors, but the act is witnessed by the kua-toas in a spawning pool on the other side of the lake. A fireball soon ends the commotion, but the flames cannot be unnoticed for long. They have to get inside! Phaedra is able to open the secret door by operating a mechanism, and quickly the four drow enter the temple. Just in time, for on the other side of the door, the second guard tries to follow them.

Vuon’s bedroom is luxuriously decorated with silk tapestries and wooden furniture. A second room reveals a library. The tubes with carts are equipped with the kua-toan language system: chains made of shells that convey a sound –a message– when moved through water. Quickly they pass a smelly privy and enter the main room. A monitor, two whips and a vampire kua-toan High Priestess are waiting for them.

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The latter holds forth her holy symbol and yells “Punish the infidels!”. The dark goddess Blibdoolpoolp decides to aid her priestess, for the whip’s strength is astonishing. After a vicious fight, where Phaedra gets pushed into a basin that leads to a lake and has to fend off a fiendish shark, where earth elementals pound and Alvra’s energy is drained, where searing lights and magic missiles find their target, the Xaniqos finally win. Lilith drives a wooden stake through the heart of the high priestess and ends her unnatural life. Their end of the bargain has been held: Vuon former second-in-command, Sloomike Goldskill, is no more.

Lilith calls her sister and brothers into a healing circle, restores the energy level of Alvra and gives him and Phaedra extra attention to heal their wounds. The siblings then gather the possessions of the dead: several necklaces, bracers, a shell vest, a couple of frost pincer staffs, some healing potions, magical amulets and rings.

Jharrath searches the sanitary room and detects a hidden space. There’s magic at work here! He calls in the help of his sister and together they try to dispel the magical illusion, but none of it works. In the end, the wizard calls forth two earth elementals and orders them to see what is behind the wall. When they return, they convey an image of a large coffin, a couple of scrolls and a chest.

 

Mutual Acquaintances

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In the next few days, the drow keep themselves occupied. Alvra spends his time training with bugbears. He would have liked to train with the lizards as well, but they are still back at the noble estate.

Interested in learning more about the area of Szith morcane, the cleric sets out to find a cartographer at the Palace of Scribes. Accompanied by the captain and two guards, she arrives unhindered in the district of House Shi’quos. The scholars give her entrance to the tower where the scribes keep the cards. An old scroll shows her the city of Maerimydra, which was built in the shape of a spider before it was demolished by the demon hordes. Szith morcane is only a small outpost of the prominent city.

Their wizard brother is in his lab in the district, while Phaedra mingles -anonymously- with the people. Though the quarter has been renovated, there are still enough outcasts and beggars around. One of them approaches the scout and tells her a mutual acquaintance wants to see her in the Hideaway, a place for runaways.

Do you know his name?

When the guy shakes his head, she asks him to describe the acquaintance.

He looks fishy, Mistress.

Intrigued, Phaedra follows the beggar. At the inn, the innkeeper Melash d’Falla points at the stairs.

Take a left at the top.

She taps on the door and a watery voice says “Who is it?” When the drow opens the door, she sees a familiar face. It is Vuon, the Sharran priest from Blessed Seahaven! Submerged in his bathtub, the kua-toa thanks Phaedra for coming.

 I need your help.

Oh, and why would we help you?

Well, a mutual acquaintance is going to be very happy.

kua-toa

There seem to be an awful lot of ‘mutual acquaintances’ today, Phaedra mutters.

The Spymaster will be grateful, Mistress, we serve the same master.

And what’s in it for us?

We will grant you access to some of the portals.

Phaedra nods at the kua-toa to continue.

Three weeks ago, an ogre-vampire appeared at our temple. He wormed his way in by telling secrets and many lies! He took my second-in-command, turned him, and has overthrown us. I need you to clear out the temple, Mistress Phaedra. Will you help us?

Before I can do that, I will have to discuss it with our Matron Mother. Enjoy your bath, Vuon, I will be back with an answer.

The kua-toa will stay at the Hideaway until she returns.

Phaedra goes back to the estate and asks for an audience with the Matron Mother. As it will take a while, the siblings pay a visit to Nyttoris Arms & Armor in the meantime, where Nyttoris is very glad to see them.

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The Xaniqos pile their loot on the counter. While they are waiting for Nyttoris to assess the items, a beautiful drow woman serves them snacks and drinks.

Well, well, well. You have been busy! Will I get into trouble with this stuff?

Nah, the former owners have passed away,

Phaedra answers with a wink.

As always Nyttoris is a graceful host and his daughter a good distraction in the negotiations. Eventually the Xaniqos siblings leave the store without their loot but with plenty of gold!

Back at the house, Phaedra is granted an audience with the Matron Mother. She tells Lady Thandysha that she is approached by a Sharran high priest of Looblishar.

He told me that his temple has been taken over by the Ogre vampire, and wants us to clear it out. In return he will give us access to some portals. If it’s the night portal, it could be helpful in our mission to find the Dark Fate rod. I could go back and ask him more information?

Access to an important portal could be interesting indeed.

Phaedra returns to Vuon, introducing Jharrath.

As you probably guessed, House Xaniqos is interested in your proposition. We want to hear more about the portals; which ones are we talking about?

Only the Spymaster can tell you, Master Wizard. You may choose only one, but you can pick a suitable one.

Can we talk to the Spymaster ourselves?

He is in Looblishar, it will take two weeks to contact him. But the Spymaster needs you, and not many can say that.

When Phaedra asks about the temple security, the former high priest draws a map with two secret passages to his old room.

What is the name of your former second-in-command?

Sloomike Goldskill, but I suspect him to be cursed now too. There are ten to twelve armed Kua-toas – three of them are whips – plus a couple of monks and fighters in the temple. By the way, Mistress, all connections between House Xaniqos and Blessed Seahaven have stopped and the trade deal has ended, due to the miscommunication with a female of Erelhei-Cinlu. A buffed one, and not too diplomatic.

Back home Phaedra talks to the Matron Mother again.

We will only gain access to one portal, but it will be beneficial. Furthermore, Vuon mentioned that our trade deal has been broken?

I know, Quarra told me; I’m afraid Vuon was not impressed about her diplomatic skills.

The Lady Thandysha likes Phaedra’s suggestion that they might be able to bring the trade back by helping the kua-toas and sends them on their way to deal with the problem.

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.