The Swordlands

Interview with a Fey

Karl idly stepped closer to the jagged hole in the floor where once an elegant lattice-work of iron and glass had stood. Looking down, he said simply “I can’t see the bottom, it just fades into blackness. Unless she can fly…”

Aengus, more attuned to the feel of the place, had suddenly realized that the creepers and vines at the edge of the room were not moving in the breeze – but moving against it. He called out, attracting the attention of the rest of the companions as the leaves and roots gathered, twisting together, and rising in the shape of a female form. Flowers and leaves clothed her as her body rose up.

Smiling, the figure spoke in a pleasant voice. “Once, Enteritus was a favourite of mine, it must be said. But now, after his actions, I must confess that all of you are. I am glad that so many of you have answered the call. Please will you help save this great realm?

Aengus replied, saying “Will you tell us your name before we agree to your request?”

“In the world of The Herald,” began the strange being, gesturing toward Iben the barbarian of Kindraed, “I am known as Mistress Night and Day. In my homeland, I am known only as Hel.” Flowing forwards, branches rustling together, the figure moved into the light cast by Sigurd’s magic. “The Swordlands and Aelfheim are conjoined, and what befalls one will affect the other. Ragnarok is to come, and the surface world will not survive. However, Aelfheim, the Feywild, can be saved if the connection is broken.”

Thunder spoke up. “You say that Ragnarok is unavoidable, and that the world will be destroyed. I was created to avert that, and to be a Protector for Humanity.”

Hel spoke in reply, “The legends I am sure have not escaped you. There are many. Some tell of Giants, some tell of Primordials, and, as you travel further, you will no doubt hear tell of some fury greater still, but each legend tells of the complete and absolute destruction of all that this land ever shall be. There is no future here, there is only what is. There is only Ragnarok. No power of my world or of the Gods in the heavens can change this. While the world of the Swordlands is doomed, my homeland can be saved. You, Aengus, and your companions must bring about the Disjunction between the World and Fey-world.

“Many hundreds of years ago the human kings of the Crown Wars fought each other to claim a great prize. In their blind desire for mutual destruction they summoned three of the most powerful beings of my world. The First Three brought with them a new meaning to suffering and slaughter, and each king in turn paid the price for their foolishness.”

Thunder spoke, “I have seen the walls of Glorium, the tomb of the kings of the Swordlands. There the walls tell of a single battle that lasted for seven generations of men, ending only when the Witch, the Wolf, and the Dragon were summoned and set themselves upon the armies of mankind.”

“This was the beginning of the conjunction. Continued Hel, “The three callings were no mere conjurations. Beings of such power require greater magic than most can wield, and with the callings were drawn lines of power that remain, binding our two worlds to a single fate. Much like the Leylines that bind the Feywild, these lines flow between our lands and form the conjunction. They are bound with three great seals, and if these 3 seals are severed then the conjunction will be undone.

“But know this. The lines of power that link the two worlds are not Leylines. They are Bloodlines, lines of lineage that have drawn our worlds from their natural states, and their seals are not sigils but the sons and daughters of the first three. You must sever these lines such that not one drop of tainted blood remains unspilled. Seek the lines of the First Three, Angrbode, Fenryr, and Nidhog, and end them.

In killing Kindrbode, seed of the witch Angrbode, you have broken the first of the seals, but you must now kill the Wolf and the Dragon if you wish to continue. Should you succeed in this quest, I will grant you a boon in return.”

“A boon…” ventured Karl

“A great prize indeed awaits you, perhaps the only thing worth having. Journey to Mickelgarth and Hammingjen,” replied Hel. “There you will find Aengus’ father. He has also agreed to help me and will be of great assistance. I hold the soul of his wife in my care, and he realized that above all things he wished for her return to him. It is strange, the actions of those that are descended from me – often, when I think I understand them, they surprise me. Including you, Aengus.”

Startled, the half-Drow replied “I am descended from you? So my abilities, my powers, they are sourced directly in you?”

“That is correct,” she said. “The lineage of the Infanti lives on through you. But now there are other Drow approaching, seeking to kill those that have killed. I leave you now to make your exit.” The mass of vines, branches, leaves and flowers sank back into the floor, disappearing back to the edges of the rooms. Karl cocked his head and listened for a second, before drily noting that there appeared to be several Drow attempting to break down the doors.

Iben recollected the room full of Lizards, and with undue haste the companions made their way there and mounted the beasts. Leaving behind a Blade Barrier from Thunder and a cloud of alchemical spores from Aengus to distract and delay the Drow following them, the companions made their way out of the wall exit and up the side of the city, seeking to return to the surface lands.

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The End of the Family

As Karl stood shouting his defiance at the Drow surrounding the party, Rubella stepped up to lay claim to him. Hissing in rage, she slashed with her claws. Karl, however, was too quick for her and pulled back a step, dodging her blow.

Sigurd, meanwhile, was hatching a plan of her own. Gesturing in strong, straight motions she conjured a Wall of Fire across the middle of the room. Caught in the conflaguration, the black-skinned creatures crisped and burned instantly in the power of her magic, dropping to the floor. Under their feet, the glass and metal struts in the dip began to distort and bend slightly in the flames.

Rubella continued to froth and slash at Karl – but as she did so the calm visage of Thunder moved around her. Striking with power, he inflicted yet another wound on her.

“In Kord’s name!” he cried out, and the wounds on both his and Karl’s body began to close up as his God answered Thunder’s battling spirit.

Seeing that things were not going their way, Chylmidia attacked from across the room. Putting her hands together into a fan, she uttered a word of magic and a black net of energy sprang from them. The net shot towards Karl, and before he could dodge it collapsed around him, holding him in place. The necrotic power of the web drained his strength as well, and Rubella grinned as she saw him visibly weaken, even as he tried to strike at her again. The strands extended back to Chylmidia’s hands, and it looked for a second as though she was controlling him like a puppet.

Attempting to draw some of the attention away from his Gnomish friend, Aengus engaged Chlymidia in a mental duel. For a split second both of them froze, eyes locked, and then, with a scream, Chylmidia broke the connection, staggering back. The strands linking her to the web broke, and Karl began to try and free himself.

Iben had finally shaken off the poison that had affected him. Grimly taking up his axe, he darted to one side, right on the edge of the glass and struck at her, knocking her to the floor.

“For Kindraed!” yelled Iben, lost in battle-rage. Even from there, though, she was a threat, clawing at him and hanging on to his leg even as he struck again with his axe.

The dim light of the chamber was lit with the glow of magical weapons, the light from the Wall of Fire and from Sigurd’s magelight. From where she stood, she could see that Chylmidia was perilously close to the fire and with a sudden flash of insight Sigurd began to move. Running hard past Rubella and Karl, she placed the Drow female between herself and the Wall. With a single, explosive gesture, she brought forth a Thunderwave.

Chylmidia, still reeling from Aengus’ mental assault, was caught unprepared. Flung backwards, bleeding from the nose, her body went directly through the Wall of Fire, crisping her skin and landing her on the metal-and-glass structure beneath with a crash. As she tried to stand, the entire thing gave way beneath her and with a fading scream she dropped from sight.

With the disappearance of Roseola, who had scurried up into the darkness at the top of the pillar, that left only Rubella, still clawing at Iben from the floor.

“This ends, now,” spoke Thunder. Raising his sword, he invoked one final prayer and the weapon lit up with radiant power, bathing the Drow in a gentle glow. Slashing downwards, Thunder killed her in one smooth motion.

As she died, the only sounds left in the room were the breathing of the companions as they sought to catch their breath, and the noise of a light breeze coming from the new hole in the floor.

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Battling the Fleshwarpers‏

His sword blazing with radiant power in the darkness of the Drow court, Thunder swung at Grandmother Rubella with an overhead strike. Screaming, she dodged to one side and the blade crashed into the ground with an explosive burst of thunder. Cursing, the Warforged brought his blade back into a defensive stance as the necrotic energy continued to surge through his body, draining his energy.

Aengus, still dueling with Ebola, unleashed a psychic attack upon her, attempting to hide himself. However, her oozy form seemed to almost be lacking a mind that he could focus on, and the attack failed. Moving back, he tried to draw her attacks on to him rather than the vulnerable Karl.

Great-Grandmother Ebola, however, was able to put family disputes second when her survival was on the line. Still seeking the antidote to the poison in her body, she lunged at the Gnome, and with the aid of the darkfire still flaming around him she was able to slice at his arms, almost causing him to drop his sword. In response, he span around her onto the central area of glass, balancing carefully on one of the metal bars that were holding it together. As Ebola tried to keep up with him, turning slowly in place he stabbed deep and twisted the blade hard. Gurgling, she collapsed and died as her internal organs were damaged beyond repair.

“That’s one,” commented Karl, before darting backwards to the centre of the dipped area. “Which Drow piece-of-crap is next?”

Thunder didn’t have time to appreciate the bravado shown by his friend. With Rubella still trying to pry open his chest, he was dismayed to find Uncle Enteritis beside him. The Drow warrior had drawn a fine and clearly magical rapier, and in a blur of motion he feinted to one side and then angled the blade past Thunder’s parry, stabbing deep into his shoulder. Learning in close and applying some more weight on the blade, Enteritis pushed it further inside, laughing all the while.

“You’ll die, Cleric of Kord,” he said, staring at Thunder. “If I don’t kill you, or they don’t kill you, the poison will kill you. You’re going to die!”

Staring back at him, the Warforged ignored the pain. “It’ll take more than you to kill me!” he returned, grimly. “And besides, unlike you, I have friends. Look behind you.”

Spinning, the Drow warrior withdrew the blade instantly as Iben, screaming another battle-cry, hurdled the stone table between him and the duel. His axe whipped round and smashed into the parry that Enteritis was attempting, knocking the rapier away and crashing into his shoulder. The impact took the Drow cleanly off his feet and down onto the ground, but he did manage to keep his grip on his weapon. Iben glanced up at Thunder before pulling his axe high again to focus on a death-stroke.

Before he could finish off the warrior, however, Rubella interrupted. Distending her jaw, she was able to bite at both Thunder and Iben simultaneously. Thunder managed to lodge his sword in the way but Iben wasn’t quite quick enough. As he was bitten, blood spraying across the floor, he felt a poison spread through him. Try though he might to shake it off, the proud Kindraed warrior was unable to do much more than dimly react to the further attack launched his way, his axe now feeling heavy in his hands.

Across the room, Roseola leapt off the pillar she had climbed and clawed at Aengus, her once-beautiful face twisted in rage and hate. Sigurd attempted to intervene with a Spectral Ram spell, a construct of force flying across the room and attempting to knock Rosiola back, but Aengus’ niece was too quick and dodged past it. The spell instead struck a chair behind her and smashed it before dissipating Aengus also found himself under attack from Aunt Chlamydia,

With the blade removed from his shoulder, Thunder was able to engage Enteritis in combat again. He could see, out of the corner of his eye, that Karl was starting to edge closer to this melee and so utilizing a common divine attack, he placed a Righteous Brand on the Drow, knowing that the mark would guide Karl’s attacks to the Drow’s weakest defenses. The radiant damage from the attack sliced into Enteritis as he dueled the Cleric.

Karl was eyeing the gap in Enteritis’ defences, assessing his movements and speed and planning his attack. His thoughts were rudely interrupted, however, as the black skinned goblinoid creatures began to run towards him, tracking nimbly across the thin struts supporting the glasswork in the pit. As they passed, they sliced and clawed at him, and despite defending himself as best he could he was left bleeding from a couple of minor wounds. One creature that had injured licked it’s hand clean of blood as it slowed, back on solid ground.

“Tasssssty…” it hissed, grinning.

The creatures had finished their run blocking Aengus from Thunder, Sigurd and Iben, but the Eladrin had a plan. Conjuring an icy wind, he used the power of his Otherwind Stride to teleport across the room. Chlamydia and Roseola were left chilled by his departure as he reappeared in a more suitable location, joining Sigurd with space to fire further bolts of energy.

Freed from having to worry about the life of his Lord, Karl tumbled forwards into a handspring, coming out of it with his blade held high and stabbing Enteritis in the leg, looking for an artery. As the Drow let out a cry of pain and staggered, Karl swiftly climbed up his body and drove his sword in through his ear and through the brain. The Drow was dead before he hit the ground, his magical rapier clanging onto the stone surface.

“Drow, zero,” said Karl. “Gnomes, two. Who wants my blood next, then? Come and get it!”

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Against the Drow‏

With the news that the dying Enteritis had poisoned the whole room, it immediately became apparent that whoever could kill Karl and take his blood would survive, the rest perishing. Not willing to abandon their friend, the companions attempted to defend him as the Drow attacked.

Surprisingly, Great-Grandmother Ebola was quickest. She stood, her flesh deforming and sinking, distending into a shapeless mass that oozed forwards. One loose, flabby arm swung round, flailing at Aengus but swooshing over his head. Taking discretion to be the better form of valour, unsurprisingly, Enteritis himself backed into the darkness, reloading his crossbows. One more bolt bounced off the table near to Thunder, but a Drow curse indicated that the other bow had jammed [1].

Taking his fate into his own hands, Karl launched a furious counterattack on the sheet-like furl of flesh that was Great-Grandmother Ebola. Weaving through the legs of the table he was under, he got behind her and stabbed deeply with his sword, his face lit up with glee as it always was in time of battle. A second later, Iben arrived and crashed into her as he raged, trying to knock her prone. The Kindraeder brandished his axe at the other Drow, snarling at them.

“A Kindraeder does not abandon his friends!” he shouted. “If you want Karl’s blood, you’ll have to spill mine first!”

From across the room, Cousin Malaria turned to her sister Distonia and said “What spirit! He’ll make a fine slave, once he’s broken in.”

Replying, the other said “And I’ve got just the collar for him. Lovely.”

Thunder, on the other hand, found himself in greater trouble. Throwing back her hood, Grandmother Rubella revealed another Fleshwarped face, this one scarred in neat lines. Her cheekbones almost pushed through, and the tops of her ears, normally pointed as all Drow ears were, had tiny blades attached to them that glinted slightly in the light. Involuntarily, Thunder took a small step backwards at the sight, and as he did she hissed and leapt upon him. Caught off guard and being unable to get his shield up in time, her long claw-like fingernails were able to gouge into his body.

Aengus, dueling with Ebola, was distracted for a second as his niece Roseola rolled smoothly from the chair that she had been occupying. Landing neatly on the floor, she scuttled backwards on all fours before beginning to climb the pillar behind her, her eyes fixed on the face of her Uncle. Whetting her lips, she waited for a chance to pounce.

As the clash of blades, noise of spells and screams of the Drow echoed through the chamber, on the far side, Distonia and Malaria, the two pregnant Drow, stood in unison. Glancing at each other, their flesh deformed and changed, running down into the floor and separating into small piles. Seconds later, the piles grew upwards, forming into several new creatures that looked like black-skinned minions, displaying long claws and fangs.

Aunt Chlamydia also rose out of her chair, gesturing. Her hands wove the shadow around her into an attack, launching a bolt of darkness towards Karl that crashed into him and lit him up, preventing him from hiding in the pervading gloom. A second later she followed it with a bolt of necrotic energy that hit Aengus, and the Eladrin found himself hard pressed to keep his concentration against the attacks of the oozing Ebola.

Surveying the situation, Sigurd realized that things were getting worse, quickly. Marshalling her arcane power, she decided to thin the numbers of the groups opponents with an Icy Terrain spell. The dark-skinned minions were caught in the radius, several of them keening in pain before collapsing to the floor. As they did so, the gibbering noises they had been uttering quieted for a moment, before the others took up the cry and made it louder.

Still grappling with Rubella, Thunder felt her digging in, reaching essential parts of his interior. Marshalling his own forces, he broke the grip with an abrupt wrench, and with a word his sword lit up with radiant energy that crackled along it’s length. The pure light spread in a small pool around him, and it was Rubella’s turn to step back a moment.

“In the name of the Storm God!” cried Thunder, and attacked.

[1] A one on the attack roll, in other words

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The Antidote‏

Enteritis continued to speak, staring intently at each of the Drow and Half-Drow in the gathering as he did so.

“Yes, my family, I have been poisoned!” Uncle Enteritis paused for dramatic effect.

“Have you not taken all your daily antidotes?” scolded a particularly stern Aunt Chlamidia

“Indeed, I have not been remiss insofaras my standard range of cures and antidotes is concerned, but, as i’m sure at least one amongst you may well know, there is NO cure for the particular poison which I have been careless enough to expose myself to.”

“Whatever could it be?” mused the other Infanti’s, innocently.

“Purple Dragon Bile.” stated the sinister fleshwarped figure, now beginning to pace slowly and purposefully around the outside of the circle of chairs and chaise-longes, passing with studied intent behind each member of his, and Aengus’, extended family.

There were mutual nods of admiration amongst the gathering.

“How exciting.” noted Great Uncle Encephylitus, once more.

“Secondly, I can’t help but incline towards the suspicion that someone in this room is responsible for my assassination.” continued Uncle Enteritis, to stiffled gasps of disbelief. “Purple Dragon Bile, being a relatively fast-acting poison, leaves me with perhaps several minutes of life remaining. Time, I fear, is against me my brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and as such I have decided, in the spirit of fairness...” he paused once more. There was a faintly discernible restlessness within the chamber.

”...to have you ALL killed.”

An uncomfortable moment of silence followed. In that moment the party studied the faces of the Infanti family. Each ones eyes darted around the circle, searching, scrutinising one another’s almost expressionless and passionless faces. Body language suggested a growing restlessness that not even the guarded reserve of the Drow nobility could conceal.

“How exciting.” The tone of voice was at this point slightly more tentative, although he did a muscle move on his face. Thunder found himself fighting an increasingly overpowering urge to attack this Drow commander.

“I have coated every surface in this room with Svirfneblin Dark Blood,” announced Enteritis. This caused a much greater stir. “It is a fatal contact poison, and I am afraid that by merely entering the room you have all come into contact with it. It is fatal, of course, but somewhat slower acting, and whats more, there is a cure.”

Sigurd whispered across to Aengus, “Any ideas?”

“No!” he muttered back. “But I do know that you need an awful lot of svirfneblin to make a very small amount of poison. And if he’s made enough to coat every surface in this room…”

On Thunder’s left, another of the Drow was saying quietly to herself “I did wonder where all my slaves went, but this is more than I expected…”

Enteritis had been moving around the edge of the circle, and now he came to a final halt just behind the Drow commander. “The cure is, for those in the know, gnome blood.”

“How exciting.”

Everyone in the room looked at where Karl had been sat, only to discover that he appeared to have vanished. Aengus distantly heard a voice, apparently coming from under a nearby table, muttering determinedly to itself “Ain’t no Drow motherfucker going to take MY blood, dammit!”

Settling himself, Enteritis issued his final announcement. “Oh! There was one other thing, I almost completely forgot! I have also finished my novel! I do hope that at least one of you survives to read it.”

“How – “ But the Drow commander’s utterance was cut short as Enteritis put a crossbow bolt through the back of his head. Slamming forwards from the impact, the now-dead Drow was pinned to the table by the bolt, whilst his body slipped quietly off the chair to hang there.

Grabbing weapons, the companions surged to their feet. All around them, the lightning quick Drow had risen too, and the silence was broken with several war cries and the beginnings of incantations.

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How Exciting!‏

Sitting in a room, with the only light coming from Sigurd’s spell, it has hard to see across the circle of chairs and tables. Falling silent, the group simply waited to see what would happen next.

There was the faintest whisper of movement on the far side of the room, and each member of the group suddenly became aware that a Drow woman was now sat across from them, at the edge of their light. She gave the tiniest acknowledgement of their presence, but apart from she was a study in indifference.

Continuing in silence, other Drow entered the room from the many entrances, taking their seats around the circle. Aengus attempted to strike up conversation with a younger woman sat near to him, but in response she merely arched an eyebrow and remarked “Aren’t you the spawn of Gastris?”

Not knowing how to answer this question, Aengus once more fell silent. Across the circle, one of the other hookahs was drawn upon, faintly illuminating the face of an elderly Drow woman as she sipped on a pipe. Looking back across the room, Thunder was surprised to see that he was now joined at his table by another armoured Drow. This one seemed older, his armour finer and more ornamental. Thunder could see that his face looked particularly cruel, even amongst the standards of Drow.

On the other side of the circle, nearer to Aengus and Karl, another older Drow woman was sat. Her face bore that same tightness they had seen amongst the acolytes and the Alchemist – marks that she had been Fleshwarped. Iben had to turn away from her to avoid shuddering at it, and as he did so he heard a faint squeaking noise, as if something metal was being wheeled in.

Looking around the circle in the near darkness it appeared that many figures had entered and taken seats, or reclined across chaise-longes’. Once all of these Drow had arrived and taken their places, all in the most eerie silence, a final figure entered.

Once all were in their places, waiting in the most eerie silence, a final figure entered through the door. Taller than the others, he moved with a sinuous grace. Although he wore several weapons upon his person, including a matched pair of crossbows of extremely high quality, and his armour had a fine baroque artifice to it, all of the companions noted that his hands ended in long talons. These looked to be far more dangerous weapons, as did his filed and pointed teeth that were exposed by his wide mouth.

“My friends!” he announced in a clear and pleasant voice that all the more jarring compared to the mouth that uttered it. “I am so pleased that you have all arrived, I thank the Stars Below. When word reached me that you were on your way, I must confess I was worried. Our city is not always, how can I say, accommodating to visitors and I am glad that you have made it to this meeting. Please, eat, drink.”

A number of Drow stepped forwards out of the shadows with trays, bottles and glasses, giving out food and drink to all assembled. Unlike the other Drow, who calmly took the offered items, none of the companions requested anything. Instead, Aengus introduced them – Sigurd of Concordance; Karl of the Instrumentality; the Herald, Iben of Kindraed; The Promise of Distant Thunder, Last of the Legion That Waits; and himself, Aengus. When he spoke his own name there was a small reaction amongst the assembled Drow.

Next to Thunder, the old warrior simply turned slightly and said “How exciting.” His voice was flat and without emotion.

From the far side of the circle came a voice, petulantly saying “But isn’t that a bit of an Eladrin name? We must get you a real name as soon as possible.”

Speaking again, the tall Drow said “And I must introduce us in turn. I am your Uncle, Aengus, and my name is Enteritus. Gathered here are your Great-Uncle, Encephylitus, commander of our Drow forces and swordsman beyond equal in this city; your Grandmother, Rubella; in the chair is your Great-Grandmother, the ever youthful and beautiful Ebola; next to her are your cousins, Distonia and Malaria; and finally your niece Roseola.”

Some of the other Drow shared Aengus’ lighter skin, marking them, like him, as half-Drow, half-Eladrin. Apparently Aengus was not as unique as he had thought. Following this thought, he asked the circle, seeking information. “I had no idea that interbreeding was so often done amongst Drow and Eladrin,” he said. “But I see no full Eladrin amongst you – where are they?”

“Foolish boy,” responded Great-Grandmother Ebola. “All Eladrin all slaves down here, you must know that.”

“It is no crime to mate with your Eladrin slaves,” continued Enteritis, “Why, we are a most liberal and accepting society, I think you will find.”

“Enteritus,” asked Roseola, sprawled in a chair to Aengus’ left. “Why exactly are we here?”

“You are all here,” announced Enteritus, spreading his hands wide and pointing at each member of the gathering in turn, “Because I have some wonderful news!” The twisted form of the fleshwarped Drow grow almost animated in excitement. “Why only this morning I discovered that I had been poisoned.”

“How exciting,” said the Drow General, sitting next to Thunder again, this time with a note of genuine enthusiasm in his cold voice.

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The Anti-Solar Lounge

With the Drow woman safely strapped into a stretcher, the rest of the group hurried over to join Karl at the edge of the room. He had found a narrow staircase that descended out of sight, without lighting.

“Any objections to me going first, nope, excellent, follow on then!” called Karl as they approached. The Gnome headed off down the stairs confidently but quietly. Keeping about ten feet further back, the rest followed.

Noticing Aengus was absently rubbing a metal ring that he wore, Sigurd asked him if he was feeling alright.

“Yes, mostly,” he replied as they continued down the stairs. “This ring – it is enchanted to help me find my father, whom I believe may be down here somewhere. Ever since we arrived I’ve felt as though I am getting closer to him, closer to what he was trying to do. It’s not a precise magic, in that I don’t get an idea of which direction he lies, but it’s more of a feeling. The feeling that I am getting, however, is that I’m on the right track. Fingers crossed, as you humans say.”

Ahead, Karl held his hand up for silence. The stairs ended in a doorway, leading to a larger room. Seeing no immediate danger, Karl waved the others in. As they entered, they could see that this room appeared to be some sort of stables, but instead in horses the various pens held large lizards, each with barding and saddles strapped to them. They were chained securely in place, but as the companions entered they stirred a little, perhaps expecting food or water. In the dim light of Sigurd’s magic, the party stayed carefully away from them.

Karl suddenly swore. Coming into view at the far end of the room was an armoured figure, slim of build. “Another bloody Drow,” muttered the Gnome under his breath. “Should have spotted him earlier.”

Moving forwards, as there was no point in pretending stealth given their light source, the party passed a large window space on their right, opposite the pens. Glancing out, Iben saw that the blackness was absolute – nothing was visible. Clutching his greataxe for comfort, a familiar object in this strange underground world, he kept pace with the others.

The Drow warrior wore fine armour, well-maintained. At his hip hung both a rapier and a small crossbow, together with a couple of daggers in obvious sheathes. As the group approached him, he surprisingly turned away and opened the door ahead of them, passing through and beckoning them on. The next room was a small antechamber, bare of furniture, and the warrior unlocked the other door with a small key and passed through.

“Be welcome to this place,” he said in the common tongue, his accent thick but understandable. “You are expected. Please make yourselves comfortable whilst I bring the others.” Exchanging wary looks, the rest of the group passed through the door after him.

The next room was a large courtyard area, extending around sixty or seventy feet on each side. Several chipped and worn pillars disappeared up into the darkness overhead, the light from the group not enough to penetrate it all the way to the ceiling. Around the edges of the room there were several growths of vegetation – trailing creepers of flowers that extended up the walls and grew out over the floor as if reaching towards the centre. Aengus recognized them as nightshade plants, and Iben added in that they represented the souls of the dead.

In the centre of the room stood several finely carved stone chairs and tables in a rough circle, surrounding a depressed area of floor. This depression was not constructed of stone, like the rest of the floor, but instead a latticework of thin metal strips acted as a grid between which some sort of transparent glass-like structure hung in sheets. It was clearly an ornate concave window of some kind, although looking through, nothing more than darkness could be seen.

Aengus spoke aloud as the Drow Warrior disappeared through a far door. “I wonder if that is some sort of viewing gallery?” he wondered, moving around the room to examine the various chairs and tables. On several of the tables stood a hookah, fine glasswork and tubing with several thin pipes extending out of it so that those sat could inhale the smoke within. A small light sat at the top, glowing dimly.

“I guess we had best take a seat,” said Thunder. “But stay wary, all of you. This may, of course, be yet another trap for us.”

“At least this trap comes with seats!” responded Sigurd. “Filthy Drow have at least given us a place to rest for a while.”

The group arranged themselves around the room and waited in the dim light.

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The Dying Drow

After the fleeing acolyte’s footsteps faded away down the tunnel, the companions gathered themselves at the top platform. Drawing nearer to the largest cylinder, the could see that it, too, had more of the disembodied hands within it, swimming about. Glad that it had never been broken, despite the splash from Sigurd’s Acid Arrow spell damaging the exterior, they resolved to stay clear of it for now.

A further exploration of the area revealed other horrors, however. All around were implements of sadistic design – saws, hooks, blades, needles and other bits of metal in peculiar twisted shapes. Many were still caked in what ted shapes. Many were still caked in what might been fresh blood, or some other substance. Karl was briefly tempted to take a particularly nasty looking dagger as a new weapon, but the thought of it’s previous use was too much for him to bear.

Iben , who had been last up the ladder, moved slowly around the room. He quivered with rage at the obscene and horrific acts that were indicated by the various tables and benches throughout the room. Many tables had thick leather straps hanging loosely from them, and on the wall a set of short chains and manacles indicated that not all of the victims were laid down before the torture began.

Aengus, with his enhanced vision compared to the others and quicker speed, had ranged further into the room. An oath sounded from him as he called Thunder forwards.

“Get over here, now! There’s another Drow on this table, and she’s still alive! Move!” Hurrying forwards, the Warforged moved up to see for himself. He found Aengus undoing a series of straps that had bound a Drow woman to a table. Her skin was stretched in places, and there were several scars along her arms and a couple on her face. Checking her body, the Warforged noted analytically that her breathing was shallow and ragged, and that her life-force was weak. He began to help as best he could.

After a few minutes of attention, the unconscious woman began to come around. Seeing the metal face above her she shrank back in fear, so Thunder stepped back calmly and allowed the more personable Aengus to speak to her in the Elven tongue. Hearing his voice she began to babble and whimper back to him, and although he did his best to calm and soothe her she still shouted and ranted. Eventually admitting defeat, he called Thunder forwards again who administered a simple sleeping draught – a trick he had learned as part of his training as a Healer. She slumped back on to the table, her head gently lowered by the Eladrin.

“What was all that about?” queried Sigurd. “I don’t speak Elven, but she sounded very agitated. Did you manage to get anything useful out of her?”

Taking a deep breath and pushing his hair back, Aengus, for the first time in the weeks that they had been together, looked rattled. “Her name, as far as I can gather, is Purpura. She is, or was, a slave to House Infanti, a Drow noble family. I don’t know anything further about them, unfortunately. Although the Drow and the Eladrin share a language, the use of words is sometimes very different. She kept speaking of stairs, a garden, and flowers. She repeated those things over and over again – wouldn’t talk of anything else.” He looked around, the disgust at what he saw evident on his face.

“I think she was being modified, changing somehow. The Drow like to work on their slaves, see if they can make them better. The process is known as Fleshwarping, and you saw some of the results in those acolytes we fought just now, and their leader, the Alchemist. He’s clearly been working on himself for some time – thinking about it, I believe those tentacles he attacked with may actually have been his intestines.”

Iben, still a Kindraeder at heart and not used to this kind of depravity, turned a mild shade of green at the thought. Aldis had already moved away from the bench to kneel and pray for those killed.

Continuing, Aengus said “I think I can bring her back, if I can study what’s been done to her and try and reverse it. Thunder, if you’d be willing to help I think we can save her life?”

Before Thunder could open his mouth Sigurd spoke harshly, saying “She’s a filthy Drow slave! Why are we wasting her time on her? We are, in case you’d forgotten, in the middle of a Drow city with no known way out and enemies on all sides, and you’re willing to put everything on hold so that you can play doctor with this woman?”

Karl threw Thunder a look that said I’m keeping well out of this, and the Gnome slipped away to check the area in case of attack. Iben joined him.

Putting some diplomatic notes into the conversation, Thunder considered his words and spoke. “We have the facilities here to help her. We can carry her with little effort, as she is weak and light in weight. I care for the survival of all living things, and if she was a slave she can hardly be blamed for the actions of her owners. Let us make a stretcher and carry her with us, if we can.”

His calm voice prevailed, and a stretcher was constructed for the woman. As it was completed, Karl’s voice came back from the edge of the room.

“Hey everyone, I think I’ve found that staircase she was talking about.”

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Tentacular Spectacular‏

The situation was growing increasingly bleak for the heroes. Whilst the threat of the Crawling Claws was all but ended, the increasing dimness of the room was making finding their targets increasingly difficult. The hideously deformed Drow up on the cages could see in the dark, as could the other Acolytes, and they continued to rain down crossbow bolts and magical attacks from the safety of the shadows.

Meanwhile, on the ground, Karl was still engaged in fighting a couple more Acolytes in hand-to-hand combat. Finally spotting an opening as one over-extended himself, he launched a nasty riposte that bit deeply into his opponents spine, almost slicing him in half. Kicking his sword free, Karl pushed the body into water with a splash, pulled out a sunrod and lit it, forcing back the darkness. Spying the ladder revealed clearly to him, he began making his way over there.

Sigurd, having shown forth her magical might, became a crossbow magnet as she was hit repeatedly by the cultists hiding in the upper reaches of the room. The final few claws also mustered a last attack, immobilizing her in place and letting her wounds run even clearer. Weakened already from the necrotic mucus attached to her, Sigurd saw the room start to spin around her and struggled to hold on to consciousness.

As Aengus tried his trick with the prism again, splitting his Eldritch Spears four ways to attack the chains of the cage that the monstrosity stood upon, Thunder called upon the power of Kord to aid his allies. Uttering first a Healing Word to close his own wounds, he then stepped up to the beleaguered Wizard and uttered another prayer, watching with satisfaction as her wounds closed.

“Kord is with you, Sigurd,” he said calmly, ignoring the continuing hail of crossbow bolts. “You are a brave fighter, never afraid to make yourself a target.”

“Melora is with me, also,” she reminded him. “Kord is not the only deity that should occupy our attention.” Grinning, she moved away, her hands already moulding the next spell to be cast. Triggering it, she blasted another group of Claws off the side of the platform with a Thunderwave, the noise of the spell rising above the clash of blades.

Thunder had taken his attention to the deformed Drow up on the cage. Lacking ranged capabilities, the Cleric simply moved towards the ladder, but before he could get far the figure jumped back and away from him, ending up near to the large cylinder on the upper level. There was a half-second pause as he gathered himself, and then he once more erupted in tentacles that struck out across the whole group. Karl, this time, managed to dodge clear as they lashed down, and Aengus was shielded behind a cage, but Thunder caught the full brunt of the attack. Several tentacles slapped at him, spinning him around in place and draining his energy again. Metal creaked as they grabbed hold and attempted to pull him apart. Sigurd too took another blow.

A sound of distant laughter echoed from above as the tentacles withdrew, and the other acolytes took heart, firing again with their crossbows. However, as Sigurd’s reserves of strength began to drop, the magical properties of her armour activated. The robes she now wore were made of Bloodthread, a powerful magical substance. As the blood from her wounds seeped into it, it hardened and increased it’s protection. The incoming crossbow bolts were deflected away or failed to penetrate it.

Seeing this, Thunder pressed the attack. He stepped up, using another magical shot from Aengus as cover, and brought down the final Acolyte with a spearing sword strike. Sigurd’s Icy Hand had been slowly draining him of his strength, and he became easy prey for the Warforged’s sword. Shrugging off the necrotic effect from the tentacles, Thunder pushed up further, followed by Aengus’ teleport as his Fey Pact power activated.

“Melora, grant me your aid,” whispered Sigurd to herself, healing her own wounds before launching an acid arrow at the laughing figure above her. It crashed home, splashing acid around him and sizzling as it began to eat away at his skin. Howling in pain, he vomited up another gob of mucus but this one went wide of it’s target to sizzle in return amongst the lower platform. Seeing his attack miss, the figure retreated into the darkness on the top level.

With the way now clear, Karl began to climb the ladder to the higher level, seeking to end the fight and sheathe his sword in his enemy’s blood. Aengus, looking to follow him, blasted at the last few Claws as they attempted to follow the Gnome, before another Thunderwave from Sigurd blasted them into smithereens. Thunder, slinging his shield on his back for a moment, joined Karl on the ladder, his weight causing it to creak with his weight. As the light of Karl’s sunrod began to beat back the darkness at the top of the ladder, they could see the figure clutching at his chest where the acid still burned him. The figure took a small flask from his belt and poured it over himself, and it fizzed away the acid.

“He’s an alchemist of sorts,” noted Karl from the top of the ladder. “Guess he’s been working on himself, somewhat…”

“He’s an abomination,” replied Thunder, reaching the top and pushing past the Gnome. “I’ll get him.” Charging forwards, the Cleric sliced at the figure, but the Alchemist dodged aside and raked him with his claws. Feeling more necrotic energy seeping into him, Thunder stepped back and tried to gather his wits. This opened a space for Karl to charge in with a malicious grin, drawing an attack from the Alchemist which he dodged easily before striking back. Slicing up into vulnerable tissue, Karl attempted to impair his foe’s fighting prowess but to no avail as his attack was deflected away.

As the battle raged on the upper level, Sigurd knew she had to do something about the Acolytes still sniping at her. Gathering her clothes, she began to rise into the air under a Levitate spell, casting her magelight forwards for better visibility. The final acolyte left alive found himself drawing level, eye-to-eye with the Wizard as she shaped another spell to attack him with.

Aengus had been following Thunder and Karl up the ladder, offering his support. As he reached the top, he saw a gap between the three figures and took a shot, catching the Alchemist with another Eldritch Spear in one leg. As the Drow staggered back from the attack, Thunder lit up his own weapon with radiant power and powered it forwards, smashing into the Alchemist with an Avenging Flame attack. Fire flickered across the Drow’s body, searing into him as he moved around and clawed at the Warforged again.

However, in his keenness to try and kill the Warforged who had set him on fire, the Alchemist had forgotten about Karl. With a sudden sidestep and swift blow, the Gnome up-ended the Drow off the side of the ledge, sending him falling thirty feet to the water below. Even as his tentacles erupted again, seeking something to latch on to and save him, he splashed into the water and sank, dead.

“So, then,” said Sigurd on the other side of room as she crackled with magical power from her mid-air position. “Do you really wish to continue this battle?”

The last remaining acolyte looked at her and fled into a side tunnel.

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The Wizard Uses An Action Point‏

The two hairless Drow acolytes dropped their crossbows and tried to draw their swords as Karl appeared next to them. His blade tripped one, and he slashed into other – aided by it’s inability to dodge as well due to the large icy fist that was gripping it. Flipping back on to this feet, the Acolyte struck back at the Gnome, but despite attacking from both sides the wily Rogue was too quick for them, ducking and then leaping over both of their blades.

Thunder was not doing so well against the crawling claws that were attacking him. They had reformed into a single mass and scuttled up and over him, locking him in place. His strong Warforged skin meant he could resist most of their attacks, but as they climbed higher he began to wonder exactly what might happen if they reached his face and went for his eyes. Another group of claws was scuttling closer, moving up next to him as he battled away.

“I’ve had another idea!” called Aengus from behind him.

“I hope this idea doesn’t involve releasing any more of these things!” responded the Cleric.

“No – it’s a much better idea. Close your eyes for a second, though!”

Closing his eyes, Thunder heard a whoomph of noise in front of him, followed by a burning smell. Stepping back half a step from the heat, he opened his eyes and saw several burnt hands dropping off him. The stone in front of him was scorched and damaged, and Thunder glanced back over his shoulder to the Eladrin.

“I admit,” he said, plucking a smouldering claw off himself and spearing it with his sword, “That was a much better idea. What exactly was it?”

“Alchemical grenade!” said the Warlock cheerily. “Like magic, only with more fire! Many uses, but best against closely packed targets, you see.”

Seeing the immediate threat was now lessened, the Eladrin teleported over to the edge of the middle platform, looking for more targets. Thunder continued to battle against the remaining claws, but at a word from Sigurd he moved back a step to open a space for the Wizard to cast another spell. Crossbow bolts from distant acolytes bounced off the stone around her.

“Right,” said Sigurd determinedly, “Let’s kick this up a notch. Filthy Drow all deserve to die anyway, them and their creations, too.” In a blur of spellcasting motion, she threw an Icy Terrain spell into the middle of the platform, coating the area in ice and causing a magical wind to swirl through the area. The claws were caught and immbolised or destroyed outright, freezing in place. Secondly, with another swift gesture she tightened the Icy Grip she held over the acolyte near to Karl. The crunch of a snapping bone was audible across the room as he writhed in pain.

Lastly, and moving up closer to the central platform to do this (with a quiet “Thank you, Thunder,” as he moved out of the way) she unleashed a shimmering rainbow of magical power that played out from her hands. All of the rest of the claws and one of the acolytes were caught in the blast, the acolyte’s skin bubbling under the radiant power. He blinked stupidly as the light went out, standing dazed and staggered as the magical assault damaged his mind. The claws faired no better, being split into small sections and scattered again.

The spray of radiant light also lit up the rest of the room for a split second like a bolt of lightning, throwing stark shadows against the walls. The writhing figures in the cages froze in mute agony, and some more acolytes were revealed in the act of reloading crossbows further back in the room. Also revealed, standing on top of a large cage towards the back was another former Drow.

His appearance was, if possible, even more horrific than those of the Acolytes – his skin not only stretched but also deformed in places, sagging off his chin. He wore no robes on his torso, which was bulging and moving as if snakes were crawling about under it, and as the light washed across him he threw up an arm reflexively to protect his eyes. The gesture revealed a set of bony protrusions extending from his arms like knife blades.

As the darkness fell again, the room now lit only by the remaining cylinders, there was a retching sound and a huge gobbet of mucus came flying out of the darkness. Striking Sigurd, it adhered to her clothes like glue, and the Wizard cried out in pain as the necrotic energy within it drained her life-force. Attempting to call up her own powers of healing, Sigurd was stunned to find that they had no effect – her wounds remained open and bleeding

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