Szith Morcane

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Wary of the shadow spider, the Xaniqos continue their way over the unstable spider strands. Phaedra carefully picks a route through the sticky maze, while the others follow in her footsteps. When she hears unfamiliar voices, the scout urges the others to stay quiet. Lilith takes a moment to examine their surroundings and spots a plateau. It seems to be another entrance in the wall opposite the thoroughly destroyed former balcony, where smoke still smolders – the result of Jharrath’s devastating fireball. Phaedra crawls upwards towards the damaged ledge and takes a quick peek. The tunnel seems empty at first, but then something moves. What in Lolth’s name… Quickly she regroups with the others and signals them to keep ready.

Hideous skinless creatures appear at the rim of the ledge. With muscles stretched taut over skeleton and fluids oozing from their bodies, they start to climb down the twenty feet drop. “Quth-maren,” the cleric exclaims, “undead skinned drow. Be careful of their ooze: it’s acid!”. They turn to face this new threat, when the spider once again jumps into existence.

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The wizard, accompanied by his mirror images, moves forward and climbs the strands, trying to reach a more strategic position. The spider launches a bite attack and its teeth sink into one of the shimmering images of the wizard. Up on the ledge a new opponent appears -an arcane guard- and four magic missiles fly straight into the fray. When they hit, only two of Jharrath’s mirror images remain.

“This fight is well coordinated,” the Xaniqos fighter observes through clenched teeth. No sooner have these words left his lips, than the spider takes advantage of his temporary slip of attention and paralyzes Alvra with a well-placed bite. Phaedra’s counterattack bounces off the spider’s hide, and the arachnid grapples her.

Lilith calls upon the Spider Queen to rebuke the undead warriors, but before she can activate that ability, one of the undead rests his horrifying gaze upon her and the normally strong willed fighter feels herself overcome with fear. A second undead tries to slice her open with his filthy claws, but can’t penetrate her armor.

From the side, the wizard launches an arch of lighting, which ravages the undead and wounds them heavily with electricity. Through the cleric’s spell resistance, she’s able to withstand the lightning arch; and Alvra is safe as well. Next, Jharrath takes out a candle and summons three earth elementals near the spider. Their combined weight is too much for the spider webs and they slowly topple out of sight, leaving a huge hole in the webbings. The spider is able to keep its footings, but has to release the scout in the process. Immediately, Phaedra lashes out and hits the eight-legged animal. When another round of the arcane guard’s magic missiles slams into the wizard, his last mirror image disappears.

“The only way you can enter Szith Morcane is either dead or as slaves!” A female voice rings out over the grunts and growls of the combatants. Upon the ledge, the Xaniqos see a female, wearing the symbol of a leering skull; it must be one of the Kiaransalee clerics, worshipers of the Lady of the Dead.

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Strengthened by the proximity of his mistress, the flayed creature makes another clawed attack on Lilith, once again keeping his horrifying gaze on her. The wounds of the oozing creature slowly begin to heal. They have to get out of there! Phaedra tumbles past the shadow spider -hitting it hard- and touches the still immobile Alvra on landing. Jharrath casts darkness on himself and moves towards the plateau Lilith spotted earlier. He sees a deserted corridor and dashes into it. “Don’t run, you’ll make a perfect slave!” The mocking voice of the Kiaransalee cleric follows him, as well as a crossbow bolt. The enchantment instantly seizes the wizard, leaving him paralyzed. There’s only one mobile Xaniqos drow left!

Phaedra teleports and takes Alvra with her, slowly dragging him towards the plateau where Jharrath is standing still. In the blink of an eye, three more drow scouts mirror her movements. She maintains her connection to Alvra, leading him further and further from the battlefield. Jharrath struggles and breaks the enchantment, casting darkness to hide their actions and whereabouts.

A frustrated shout sounds through the battle scene. The Kiaransalee cleric is not happy to see her prey escape and calls upon her Goddess. And the Lady of the Dead answers: a roaring flamestrike slams into the middle of the three, or rather six, siblings, but searing only Jharrath. Phaedra pushes the fighter into the corridor, and then steps back onto the webs.

The Xaniqos cleric manages to break the will of the glaring Quth-maren. Shaking her head clear of the last remnants of the undead’s influence, she tries to dodge the slashes of one, while the other spits acid blood at her. It splashes against the stone and spider strands, where it mingles with Lilith’s blood. Looking up, she sees the arcane guard drawing near. In full retreat she follows her brothers and sister, while being attacked by the undead and the guard over and over again.

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When Alvra comes to, he’s face down in a dark tunnel. His brother is heavily wounded, and both his sisters are battling on the web strands, while trying to flee to the relatively safety of the corridor. Another necromancer spell hits his eldest sister. Phaedra is driving the guard mad by teleporting away constantly when he comes too close. The fighter takes out his javelin and hurls it towards the Kiaransalee cleric on the other side of the crevice. Caught up in her spell casting, the necromancer is surprised by the attack. She pays in blood.

Summoned from another plane by the wizard, a large earth elemental appears and tries to grapple the arcane guard. As planned, it’s weight proves to be too much though, and both start falling through the net. The guard manages to hold on and climbs back up. In all consternation the spider advances on Lilith and paralyzes her with a bite of its poisonous fangs.

Covered in darkness, Phaedra sets out to retrieve the immobile cleric. Under attack by the quth-marens, she starts pushing her sister towards the plateau. Fortunately the undead miss. Alvra doesn’t though, and throws another javelin at the creatures, scoring a hit. Jharrath readies a fireball, waiting for his siblings to clear the webbing. The fighter bull-rushes the quth-marens, but loses his footing and lands on his back. There he continues fighting his opponent, who is stuck in the spider strands. Jharrath casts a spell on the other. Alas it seems to be resistant to fire. The spider removes Phaedra’s mirror images in a double attack. Quickly the scout shoves Lilith back another step. Jharrath lifts his arms and…

“Let them run!” Overseeing the battlefield, the Kiaransalee calls back her allies. “Stop the chase and let the worms run!” The attackers leave, making care tot dodge Alvra’s harassing sword.

Limping and bleeding they manage to escape. Not a good day for the four adventurers of House Xaniqos. Still they finally managed to find Szith Morcane!

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.

Dragon!

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When they walk back towards the entrance of the darklight ore mine, they suddenly hear applause. A very well dressed drow in a splendid robe is clapping his hands and says,

I’m impressed! But I would like you to go no further.

And who might you be?

My name is Phazeuroth.

The Xaniqos have never heard of him, which surprises Phaedra, as she knows of almost everyone of note in Erelhei-Cinlu and surroundings.

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The male drow takes a graceful bow and chats on, asking for their names. The cleric isn’t too keen on giving those, so she keeps distracting him with more questions. He answers willingly.

I was asleep, when I was disturbed by your fireball and electric show, so I came to check you out. I had come to an agreement with the fanatics that you seem to have destroyed. Hmm, well this might be a new opportunity in itself as I was pondering how to make my presence known to your city.

Who are you?

I’m a kind of collector of interesting objects.

And what are you? You don’t seem to be affected by the radiation of the darklight ore at all.

The answer to Lilith’s question is quite surprising.

I am suprised you have not heard of me, I am a dragon!

Phazeuroth’s tone is very proud and arrogant.

The large bones over there actually belonged to my grandfather. I would like to have a good relation with the city, based on trust. This is my place, and I don’t like too many visitors. Recently, a group of albinos came and asked for a stupid scroll, which was already in my possession for over a decade. I must have “collected” it while I acquired more interesting objects. How they knew I had it I did not know, nor ask. They were willing to pay a handsome sum for it and as the scroll was of no particular interest to me, I sold it to them.

The cleric assures him of the interest in a mutual business agreement with her House. Phaedra asks the drow if he knows more about the szarkai.

They told me they came from the city of Maerimydra, which was destroyed a long time ago. There was a female, a fanatical priest. Once in a while she came to collect the carts with darklight ore. And I heard something about ruins.

Phazeuroth falls silent and either he is genuinely bored with the subject or he feigns to have no interest.

Don’t you ever get lonely?

After Lilith’s words, the male drow changes into an elegant rakish, shiny black serpent. Over his head, a circle of steam slowly wheels. Magic is thick upon the air.

Deep dragon

Let me introduce myself again. Well met, my name is Phazeuroth..

The cleric finally introduces herself as Lilith, high priestess of House Xaniqos. In a deep and rumbling voice, the dragon thanks her.

Meanwhile Jharrath leads his blinded sister to the corpses, where she searches for symbols. Apart from sword and armor, she finds nothing, so they return to the party, where Phazeuroth – after changing back to his drow form – says:

What I forgot to tell you, uhm, what was it again? Something to do with the end of the world. Or was it the end of your city? It is hard to remember.

They all realize the dragon is only acting this casual.

Ah yes. You will have to go to the city of Maerimydra quickly. Something to do with a rod, Szith Morcane and a the prophecy: Their time will come, your time will end. Yes, that was it. That is where the albinos were headed. By the way, it would be nice if your friend over there doesn’t do his fireball anymore.

Oh, but if I had known a beautiful dragon was living here, I wouldn’t have done that!

The dragon is pleased to have such a polite interlocutor and he and Jharrath continue their banter for a bit.

I hope to see all, or some of you, again. In the future I might put back the trap again. But call my name, and I will come to you.

After saying goodbye to their new business partner, Alvra and Lilith carry one of Phazeuroth’s grandfather’s bones and use it as a bridge across the gap of the trap. When they try to figure out how to get the bone back, they hear the echoes of the dragon. Don’t worry about it… Jharrath collects a piece of the violet fungi for later investigation and together the four siblings make their way down the slope again; fighter and scout in one piece, the other two with a bit more difficulty.