By Bryant Alexander
Don't Touch the Altar
The day we left was a pleasant sixty three degrees.
“Think of this,” I advised Armand. “There's more of them down there.”
That thought should get his interest up. Or some other thing up.
Armand did have some interesting things to tell us. There was a city down there, named Szith Morcane. The drow of House Morcane didn't worship Lolth. They followed Kiaransalee, Lady of the Dead. So the dead drow we'd found at the entrance of the crypts weren't just a case of drow will even kill drow if they don't have anyone else to slaughter. Followers of Kiaransalee were killing followers of Lolth. The drow we met behind the illusionary walls were followers of Lolth. They were probably hiding from the Morcanes.
As for skinless drow, Xora referred to them as ‘specials' and warned Armand that we might meet the previous drow's sister.
“What else did you get while you were there?” Aeryn asked.
“None of your business,” Armand said. “I suspect you already know.”
“How'd you knock over the ladder?” Aeryn asked.
“I didn't,” Armand said. “And the bed broke because I weigh three hundred pounds!”
“The whole keep heard the thump,” Aeryn said. “I looked out the window.”
“I suspect you were there already,” Armand said. “I know you have this fascination with my sex life. I learned more in one night of sex than in a month in Waterdeep.”
“Maybe you should have sex more often,” I said.
“My people are warriors,” Armand said. “We know that each time might be our last.”
Now there was a cheery thought. An accurate one, maybe, but that wasn't the way I wanted to live my life. We made our way back down past familiar smells that had only grown worse in our absence. Maybe the carrion crawlers cleaned up the bodies, but someone really needed to deodorize the place. I wondered if each whiff might be my last. My nose was far too delicate for this.
“Her family rivalries make the fey look good,” Armand said.
“I told you she's disgusting,” Aeryn said.
“But a good lay, though,” Armand said. “Nicely padded in front.”
“Some of us are built like graceful ballerinas,” I remarked. “Not like… twin flotation devices.”
Bigger was not always better. To myself, if not to Armand, I would admit that Xora probably did have an edge over me in experience. Elven parties can be quite entertaining, and I'd attended a few during our stay in Waterdeep, but Xora was most likely inventive in ways that I could only imagine and certainly in ways that I didn't want to imagine.
We finally made it to the hole. Aeryn, naturally, went down first.
“Spiders, spiders, spiders!” Aeryn announced when she popped back up. “And a flayed drow. Moonshine, I think the spiders are dead, so that's your job.”
“I'll have to fly down in elf-form, then,” I said.
Aeryn pulled out her rapier and flew back down. Armand jumped after her with a sun rod out. I cast my Fly spell while lightning crackled down below. Grolsch jumped down the hole. I flew after him and watched him throw a flamestrike at the skinless bitch. There did appear to be ten spiders crawling around on the ceiling. Dreya Turned four of them, but the other six dropped down onto our companions, two on Armand, two on Aeryn, and one on Grolsch.
The flayed drow tossed a metal ball at us. We had just enough time to see the burning fuse before the ball exploded. That stung. Everyone ran forward to hack at the bitch, completely ignoring the spiders crawling on them. I Turned four of the spiders into dust. Dreya managed to hammer one.
The skinless elf slapped Aeryn. Aeryn danced around her and gave her a good stab in the back. The drow dissolved into a puddle of goo.
“Ouch,” Aeryn remarked.
Grolsch cast some healing at her. Then the other three spheres that the flayed drow had been carrying blew up. I was far enough back that I wasn't hurt, but those things were nasty. I still had to breathe, and there was a nice cloud of smoke filling the air.
Aeryn peered into the chasm. According to Armand's info from Xora, the monster spider would ignore anyone climbing down the non-sticky strands. Unfortunately, we'd know when we hit a sticky strand when we stuck. Unlike Nanoc, we wanted to avoid fighting with things that out-massed the entire party.
“Do we leave Pain and Suffering up here?” she asked. “Who can cast Dimension Door?”
I could, and Aeryn could.
“Can you tow Grolsch?” Aeryn asked.
“That depends on what you mean by tow,” I said.
“He's levitating,” Aeryn said. “Grolsch, can you carry Dreya?”
We must have looked like quite a sight as we made our way down the cliff. Armand cast Featherfall on himself and carried Lobelia, and Aeryn towed them down.
Last time we were here, we'd all noticed various openings in the cliff wall. Armand had gone down further than the rest of us, in his efforts to rescue Xora from going splat. He was the only one who'd seen the largest opening, a thirty foot by twenty foot hole leading into a well crafted room with smooth walls and floor. We were guessing that the biggest hole led to the city we were seeking.
We peered into the hole. Two passages led out of the chamber through crafted archways. A ladder that strongly resembled a spider web led to a tunnel that exited the ceiling at an angle.
Aeryn, as always, entered first.
“Careful,” Aeryn warned. “There's a spell.”
Armand tried to enter the chamber, but Lobelia let out a dreadful scream. Armand hastily backed out again. Lobelia was alive, but barely conscious.
“As stupid as this sounds,” Aeryn said, “put her in the portable hole. If she's in an extra-dimensional space, the spell can't hurt her.”
“If she's in the bag,” Armand said, “I won't know if she's been hit or not!”
Grolsch tried to walk through and got bounced back.
“Do you wanna go in the hole?” Aeryn asked him.
When I pushed my way through the spell, I realized what it was. This was a Forbiddance spell, meant to keep anyone of the wrong alignment out. To me, the chamber felt very unclean.
“Anyone wanna see me cast Dispel Magic?” I asked.
Everyone, regardless of which side they were on, stepped back. I cast my spell and the Forbiddance went down… momentarily, at least. It was far too strong a spell for me to make it go away permanently.
“Everyone in!” I said. “Quickly!”
Once we were all in the chamber, Aeryn scampered up the ladder.
“Clerics?” she suggested.
Somehow, I did have the feeling that me and Dreya were going to be needed shortly. We crawled up the tunnel. It was a long way up, and the tunnel wasn't very roomy. There was a definite scent of decay in the air, too. Finally, we emerged in a room shaped much like a spider, with seven more tunnels just like the one we'd come out of. We'd just come up a leg.
Corpses were strewn about the floor and slumped against the twin rows of columns. They looked as though they'd fallen in battle, since their weapons were close at hand. It didn't look like it was a recent battle, though, as their flesh had begun to melt into slime, allowing the bones to show through.
“Scented hanky, anyone?” Aeryn asked.
“I have my own,” I said through one.
Poor Lobelia threw up. Every adventurer has their first one. Even the doggies were retching. There were dead clerics of Lolth in here, too. For corpses, they were exquisitely dressed, with their black robes trimmed in dark red and purple.
“If you like that sort of thing from drow,” Aeryn muttered. “No, we know who likes that sort of thing from drow.”
“Their clothes?” Armand asked. “I'm not into cross-dressing.”
For which we could all be thankful.
“You will be if you stick with your girlfriend,” Aeryn said.
There was a lot not to like here. For me, the Unhallow spell over the chamber cut me off from my Goddess. This was Lolth's place, and even if she wasn't answering her clerics anywhere, my Goddess couldn't answer me here, either.
The platform at the front of the spider was clearly a sacrificial altar. It was surrounded by walls carved to look like the sharp, venomous fangs of a spider. A female drow corpse was lying on the altar, staring vacantly towards the ceiling, a hand crossbow bolt still protruding from her neck.
While Aeryn scouted down another spider leg tunnel, Grolsch tried poking the body on the altar. Grolsch fell over and didn't get up.
“You…!” Armand shouted. “If there's anything to be poked, let me do the poking! …that's not what it sounded like. I'm more like the alignment here, as much as I understand alignment. The temple may not damage me.”
Grolsch drooled. I don't think he understood.
“Can you fix him?” Armand asked.
“I can cast Restoration,” I said. “But I have to ask my Goddess for the spell and I can't ask Her anything in here. And I'll need to wait until my daily prayers.”
Aeryn's head popped out of a leg.
“Find anything?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Armand said.
We explained that Grolsch was out of action until I could pray for a spell to Restore him. That meant backing out of here and returning to the cliff top. Unfortunately, while some of us could get back up there easily enough, I had to pray for another Dimension Door spell, too.
“Will the mutts fit in the bag?” Aeryn asked.
Not a chance. Besides, I'd like to see her try and herd those puppies into it.
“We're going to have to camp down here,” Armand decided.
We couldn't just abandon the wolves, after all.
“Use the cloak on Grolsch,” Aeryn said. “You can tow him up. Then fly the cloak back to me. No, wait. He has the boots.”
“Is it safe to leave you two alone?” I asked.
Aeryn looked at Armand.
“ Yes ,” she said.
“Of all the women I'll never sleep with…,” Armand said.
“Like I'd touch you,” Aeryn said, “after you slept with that . She's not exactly exclusive.”
I got Grolsch back up the cliff. I had to listen to Aeryn and Armand the whole way down the spider leg tunnel. It wasn't safe leaving those two alone, but I'd have to trust that Dreya and Lobelia would keep them from killing each other. Once up top, I wondered… Who was going to stand watch? This was going to be a long night. By the time my daily prayers rolled around, I might not be praying for anything more than sleep.
Sometime later, I heard voices from down below.
“I need a beer!” Armand's voice shouted, echoing up the chasm. “Or a scotch! I need to get really drunk so I don't kill you!”
Great. Even if I wasn't stuck on watch, I probably wouldn't be sleeping with those two carrying on. I draped a cloak over Grolsch and tried to squish him into a dark corner. Half-orcs don't squish very well, but I did my best.
Not much later, I heard more shouting.
“…gonna have to fight a bunch of undead!” Armand yelled.
That sounded like my cue. There wasn't much I could do for Grolsch except hope that no one noticed him. I switched to bat-form, flew down, and switched back. I found Aeryn hovering near the chamber's ceiling and Armand leaning a manacled female drow against the wall.
“Armand found another girl?” I asked.
“Armand found what the ghouls were feeding on,” Armand said.
Ghouls. Oh, goody. At a guess, Aeryn decided to go scouting, despite the party being at half strength, and then ran back to Armand screaming for help. But ghouls weren't so bad.
“May I suggest wands first?” Aeryn said.
She pulled out her Wand of Lightning. I readied my holy symbol. I could Turn ghouls. If that didn't work, then I'd try my Wand of Searing Light.
What showed up weren't ghouls. It was a pair of very well dressed vampires. Armand threw Alchemist's fire at them. It stuck to one of them, at least. The vampires picked Armand and Dreya to stab at.
“Turn these things!” Armand shouted.
Lobelia attempted to Disrupt undead. I wasn't sure I could pull this off… I Turned one of them. The one that wasn't burning ran away! Aeryn fired off magic missiles at the remaining vampire. I could do this. I Turned the second one. I hurt it, and it ran away.
“They're gonna come back,” Aeryn predicted. “We have to destroy their coffins.”
“Burn them in their coffins,” I suggested.
We gave chase. An oddly shaped room was around the corner from the entrance chamber. I could guess that they'd found the new girl in the manacles set on the wall. A doorway from this room led into a chamber filled with cold, clammy fog, i.e., vampires in their gaseous form. Three wooden coffins were lying on the floor in that room. Behind them stood a row of counters and cupboards that had obviously been ransacked.
“Let's off the coffins,” Aeryn said.
Armand pointed his ring at the coffins and smashed them into kindling. I hung back. Even a frightened rat, when pushed into a corner, will turn and bite. I did not want to push vampires into biting. Being a were-bat was a blessing. Being a were- vampire bat might be a problem.
“Can you stay here and hold them?” Aeryn asked me.
“I don't want to push them,” I said.
The mist started flowing the other way.
“Follow the mist!” Aeryn shouted. “Find their other coffins!”
We chased the mist until we reached a door. The mist flowed around, under, and over the door. Neat trick. Armand ringed the door apart. We chase the mist down a corridor that led to… another door. Aeryn tried a lightning bolt, but it wasn't very effective.
“If they go through a third door…,” Armand grated.
His ring blew a hole in the door, but not a big enough hole for any of us to fit through, except maybe Lobelia. We weren't sending her on without the rest of us.
“I'm not chasing them,” Armand stated.
“Then how are we getting out?” Aeryn asked.
“This ain't gonna work!” a clearly frustrated Armand said. “The only one who can hurt them stupidly touched the altar and is currently drooling!”
We retreated to the entrance chamber. Dreya used a scroll of Levitation to float the doggies. They were very unhappy puppies, but we were able to tow them back onto the cliff. Finally.
“I'm not coming back in here,” Armand declared.
“I suggest we transport this back,” Aeryn said.
This was their new drow prisoner. We'd already given Lord Morn a follower of Lolth. Now we had a member of House Morcane.
“They wanted reconnaissance,” Armand said. “This broad can tell them.”
She probably could. And if the followers of Lolth and the followers of Kiaransalee got along as poorly as they seemed to be getting along, either Xora and the new girl would kill each other for us, or Lord Morn (and later Armand) was going to have the most interesting threesome of his life.
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