Footsteps in the dust

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The next morning, the Xaniqos are called to a meeting with Taldinyon. The weapon master introduces them to a familiar face, the draegloth Leargath, hired to help them search for Dark Fate. The half fiend also has a license to hunt down drow, so it can keep the other parties away from them if the need arises. Spies have informed house Xaniqos that house Tormtor en Shi’quos are also on their way, led by a priestess and a score of drow and many slaves.

After this briefing Taldinyon places a map of the Underdark on the table.

You’ll have to go to the burial grounds near Szith Morcane. Search for graves in the Underdark. And once you find the rod, do NOT use it. We do not know its abilities.

Phaedra takes the map, and together the Xaniqos leave the house, heading for the Bridge of the Nobles. Apart from slaves, the streets are quiet. The scout warns Lilith against follow-up parties, and the cleric decides they will take a detour to the west first, before heading towards their goal in the north.

After five days of travel through the corridors of the Underdark – avoiding goblins and other inhabitants – they draw close to their destination. It is a stony area, big and wide. Their path gradually slopes upwards and the air turns humid. The roads are old, but there are fresh animal tracks in the dust. Soon Phaedra sees the remnants of old buildings, pieces of marble pillars and other debris. They have arrived at the upper city of Szith Morcane.

While the drow search for a crypt, the wizard points towards two pillars up north, behind a hill. Slowly they make their way towards the landmark over the wide wasteland. Long ago, a huge battle took place here. Skeletons, armor, all crumbles to dust when they touch it. Most of the mausoleums in the area have succumbed to time, but about five are still standing. The doors of the first structure have been ripped open with great force; it has probably been looted. The door creaks when Phaedra peeks inside. There’s dust everywhere, but not much more.

An old campsite,

she tells the others when she returns to the entrance,

no one’s there and it has been picked clean. Let’s move on to the next.

But all have been ransacked.

They walk towards the pillars they saw earlier, the columns shaped like two big skeleton warriors. The piercing eyes of the skeletons give them all a creepy feeling. Jharrath uses his wand to detect magic, and he discovers two weak auras. This mausoleum has a family weapon, and Lilith can tell that it has been an old and noble drow family. They are probably on the right track. The doors are still sealed, though there is some damage. The scout searches the entrance for traps, while the others keep an eye on the surroundings. There seems to be no danger, but the doors are locked.

The wizard summons an earth elemental.

Go check the other side and open the door.

When the elemental obeys and arrives at the other side, he utters two simple words in his grating voice:

Chain, master.

Then break it!

They all hear a heavy jingling thump when the chain hits the ground.

What do you see?

Bodies, master.

We’re coming in, get out of the way.

Twenty feet further, the bodies of five drow lie on the ground -totally stripped- two women and three males. Crossbow bolts stick out of the backs of their heads and necks, while others have fractured skulls. The piwafwi emblem shows an electric javelin… drow of House Tormtor! Through a spell, the cleric calls the spirit of one of the females to her.

Who killed you?

Followers of the White Banshee.

What were you doing here?

Looking for the rod.

How many attackers were there?

I don’t know.

What is the White Banshee?

Kiaransalee

Lilith considers the words of the dead. Demi-god, Lady of the Dead, deity of vengeance and undead. Not a friend to any Lolth worshipper…

Meanwhile Phaedra checks out the door to the side, which is closed but not locked. It opens smoothly, but the layer of dust has not been disturbed. There are more empty rooms to the left and right, upon which the scout returns to the main corridor. There she finally sees footsteps in the dust, leading onward.

One, two… Principle missing!

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Suspiciously eyeing the pentagram, Lilith tries to erase part of the circle. After a few moments she succeeds, thus severing it. She takes some time to heal herself and be ready for the challenges ahead.

The room of Thra’esue is bare, apart from a small stone table with parchments. Phaedra takes a chart of a graveyard with her. On the map directions have been indicated with arrows. Lots of humanoid skulls litter the floor. At the back is a locked door. Jharrath summons an earth elemental and orders it to demolish the door. With several power attacks, it splinters the wood. Inside is a sarcophagus, which – the lid pushed aside by the summoned elemental – reveals the resting body of the ogre. The cleric takes a vial of holy water and pours half of the contents in the giant’s mouth. His eyes snap open, and with a horrible scream, he pulverizes. No mist, no nothing; the beast is gone. In his sarcophagus  lie a pouch with three potions, a key and a magical chain shirt. The potions inflict moderate wounds when used.

130403sarcophagus

The drow now move towards the room of Mephisolis, the upper Principle. The corners of his room are decorated with big urns. Something clicks when the scout passes the threshold and she gets hit by an arrow full of acid. With Thra’Esue’s key she tries to open the door to the inner sanctuary, but it doesn’t fit. Jharrath gets the same treatment, when he tries to open the lock with a scorching ray. One of his Melphs acid arrow takes care of the problem: the door is gone. The inner room is lit by four ever burning candles. A huge jump brings Alvra almost to the sanctuary… almost. Another acid arrow finds its target.

Now the method to destroy the Principles is clear, the cleric decides to leave it up to her siblings to take care of the vampire ogre. Elegantly she throws the still half full vial of holy water towards her brother, almost into his waiting hands… almost. Fumbling Alvra fails to catch the little bottle and it crashes to the stone floor. Quickly he wets a piece of his robe with the remnants of the holy water, while Lilith scowls at him. He walks towards the second sarcophagus – lined in red silk – and pushes the lid off. It takes quite some strength and the help of the wizard to accomplish, but finally they succeed. The wet cloth is not enough to finish the ogre, so they cut off his head and set the corpse on fire. Principle number two is gone from this world.

In the coffin another key, a beautiful magic chain shirt and a ditto great sword stay behind. Phaedra decides to keep the chain shirt for herself, though she will have to resize it. There are also two pouches and two shiny flasks, containing a silvery liquid. Alvra recognizes it as silver sheen. With a mighty jump, the fighter manages to reach the safety of the central room. His brother isn’t that fortunate, his clothing damaged by the acid that’s still eating its way through the fabric. The fighter hands the pouches to Lilith, and she finds gold pieces and two blue sapphires, worth 3.500 gold pieces.

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Checking out the Principles’ third room, Lilith commands her shield to transform into a spider and sends the arachnid to investigate. When nothing happens, she walks in to and tries out the keys she has found. They won’t fit. Out of holy water, Alvra and Lilith coat their weapons in silver sheen and hammer down the door. A closed coffin awaits them, which proves to be empty though. Where is the third Principle?

The Xaniqos gather in the central space, where the cleric casts a mass shield of faith. She warns her siblings to let their guard down before releasing the spell. Then they continue towards the last door: the library. The key fits the lock smoothly, and inside there are several shelves with lots of books and scrolls. Two are especially beautiful, but when Phaedra tries to read them, she gets nauseated. The wizard takes her place and soon finds out these are magic scrolls about necromancy. He takes them with him.

In the room of the ghouls, Alvra discovers a pouch with a black opal. Hurriedly he leaves the filthy nest. The cleric once again checks out the central room and the pulpits, but there is nothing there. All siblings search for hidden doors and other hiding places, but there’s absolutely nothing. The bats have found a quiet corner and witness the search.

The drow decide to go back to the first room. The corpses of the two ogres are still there, but the body of the mage ogre has disappeared! Could he be the missing Principle? It must be. A trail of blood leads upwards, but when they enter the upper floor again, an occasional drop and boot prints in the dust are all that is left of the trail. Though they search the mansion, even the upper parts and outside, there’s no trace of the mage ogre. He must have regenerated. Perhaps he ran off to House Shi’quos, they simply don’t know. The Matron Mother can be content: the leader of the Principles is dead and the rest has been slaughtered.

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.