Sipping the hot tea his granddaughter Sheila had just handed him, Torben Eastlander relaxed. The seven little ones in front of him, well Sheila at 12 turns was no longer so little, were his delight and his joy. And they sat around his chair in a semi-circle, anxiously awaiting the promised story of the drow priestess Arraxis and how she was tangled up with their beloved adventurers, the Denizens of the Nentir Vale.
Torben could vividly recall the drenched night when he had staggered to the Half Moon Inn to swap tales with the five adventurers, as they called themselves. He had never been sure why he couldn’t come up with these fantasies himself, why he needed to hear their imaginings and then turn them into the books and tales that had sold so well that he had become quite rich. Rich enough to pay for several rounds of drinks and meals, though the dwarf might bankrupt him when several rounds turned into many rounds. No matter, tonight he was a little desperate. The last story about their battle with Sky Pirates had not sold as well as others, and he had outstanding debts that needed payment. Hopefully, this one would do better, though he wished he weren’t in such a rush.
The five adventurers sat around a large wooden table. They were clearly old friends, and a few of the scars that some of them had might even have come from real battles, though he doubted that. They were simply the most imaginative bunch of storytellers he had ever encountered. Much better than the halflings who had relayed a yarn about a magic ring that would rule the world when obtained by its creator, a disembodied evil wizard. Torben remembered that yawner. How the halflings bravely took the ring to a volcano to destroy it. Boring. But, the three volumes he penned, drawing out the story well beyond belief, had sold well enough, particularly among the elves when he made them figure prominently and added some beautiful elven maidens and wizards.
Those fictional women were nothing compared to the half elven sorceress Tira in front of him. Now, better descriptions of her would help among the lords who might buy the next book. He would try to remember that. And, to downplay the earnestness of the nobility of cause the half elven cleric of Bahamut Zenithar always brought to their meetings. Torben stared briefly at the cleric. His eyes were definitely water logged because he would have sworn that he could see the silvery flames that he often put into the stories to describe the magical healing that was necessary to explain why the group didn’t die from what were battles beyond belief. It was a crutch, he knew, but the audience bought it. Or at least had, until that last book.
Torben settled in, ordered ale, wine, and food for all, got out his notebook and quill, and looked at the five. “So, you were in the Astral Sea searching for mountains that would bring you back home. What happened after you returned the Githyanki princeling to his home?”
Zenithar, Z’alden to his friends, cleared his throat. Oh shoot, a sermon, thought Torben. I should have asked the question straight to Tira. Dragon’s fallings.
Z’alden said, “It was most remarkable. Dragon’s claws, the five of us stood on the deck of the Centurion, when in a blink, I found myself in a blackness and in a box.”
The dwarven fighter Barrick, the wizard Rift, and Tira all nodded, as if truly remembering this event. Surprisingly, Erik leaned forward a little. Ah, they were playing a new game. Erik would not be in this story. He had stayed on the ship in their little tale. A clever twist. His readers would not like this. The precise ranger, with arrows blazing and the romantic War Glaives slicing, was a favorite of young lords. Oh well. Maybe he could salvage the story somehow. If only he wasn’t in such a hurry.
Z’alden cleared his throat again. Torben’s mind had wandered, and the cleric who clearly thought too much of himself, probably thinks he is a demigod by now practically, waited until Torben was paying attention to continue.
“Grandpappy, grandpappy. Wake up,” little Miro was shaking Torben’s knee. He had nodded off as he remembered the time of the adventurers telling him the story he was trying to relate to his grandchildren. Bad form.
The old man took another deep sip of tea. “Well, it was an incredible thing. The five were on the deck of the Centurion, and then suddenly, Erik was by himself. Tira, Rift, Barrick, and Z’alden had vanished!”
“Yeah, right,” Mijfox muttered and then ducked before Sheila could wack him. The other five just glared at their petulant sibling.
“Even more amazing,” Torben laughed at Mijfox’s disbelief. This wasn’t history, and it was right to be skeptical, just as Torben had been when the Valers had tried to convince him it was all true.
“Even more amazing,” he continued, “ each of the four heard a voice as they were transported to an utter blackness and saw a vision of a spinning red ball of light with blue lightening.”
As she saw the vision, Rift heard a voice that said “Darkstar burns brighter.”
Tira’s voice said, “Steal the glance of the eight eyes.”
Barrick’s voice said, “Certain death means life.” Though he always said it was “Sergeant death”. Very stubbon that dwarf.
Z’alden’s voice said, “Blood is the answer.”
“As they described it to me, let me tell you from the cleric’s perspective. It was a confusing time. You will have to pay attention. Can you do that?” Seven heads nodded affirmative in unison. “Good,” said Torben.
The cleric awoke lying on his back. He was uncomfortable and in utter blackness. The air was stale and rank. He quickly realized he was probably in a coffin. Pushing on the lid above, it was heavy, but he could move it. He was in a square room, 3 staff lengths on a side.
Lighting an everburning torch, he ventured out a corridor, turned a corner, and there was his beloved dwarven friend and comrade Barrick! Z’alden was overjoyed. Reunited, Barrick and Z’alden traced out corridors in an ancient crypt. The air continued to be stale and still. It was oppressive and heavy.
Finding a door, they listened. Voices behind it caused the cleric to pause. He readied a silencing ritual so that whomever they found behind could not cry out in alarm and bring others. The ritual takes 10 minutes. The dwarf grew impatient as the half-elf chanted on. Finally, Barrick had had it. He shoved open the door and burst into the room on the other side.
“Bout time,” Mijfox muttered, again ducking swiftly. “The cleric takes forever. I prefer the direct approach.” A few others nodded while Sheila glared. Torben looked in askance at Mijfox, “Well I do!” the child said. “Continuing,” Torben said as he slurped more tea. Gella giggled at the slurp.
What Z’alden and Barrick didn’t know is that Tira and Rift had woken up in similar coffins and found each other. While the boys where pussyfooting around, the ladies had discovered a cadre of drow warriors and dispatched them with aplomb. The cleric and fighter encountered their own set of 4 drow warriors in their part of the crypt. Quickly, they dispatched all but one, who fled. Barrick gave chase, caught up with him, leaped over him, and sliced his head off with his powerful axe!
Sheila sucked in her breath at that. She imagined the leaping dwarf, vaulting over a drow warrior. Incredible. Then, she was ready to whack Mijfox for a comment. But, the comment never came. He was enjoying the story now. There would be no more interruptions.
Z’alden gave chase as two drow warriors ran away from him. In a few seconds, they had unfortunately run into Barrick and would have met the same fate as their comrade if Z’alden hadn’t seem the drop to the ground after bolts of force magic light them up. At that instant, from down the corridor, he heard his friend Rift say, “That is how it is done.” Rift! Z’alden rejoiced. And, joining up to Barrick, there was Tira, also. The four were together. No sign of Erik.
Together, the four advanced along the corridors of the tomb. The exploring reminded them of early carefree days when worlds did not hang in the balance of their actions. Rift carefully mapped each turn and door, “what if we have to come back. You will thank me for knowing how many staff lengths we have to go before turning left!” The eladrin could be touchy when mapping.
Eventually, they reached a massive door. Rift touched her staff Darkstar to the door. She could sense that they were deep underground. More than that. They were in the world called the Underdark, home of the drow. And, behind the door, hundreds to thousands of drow waited.
Barrick was through with patience, listening, and waiting. He opened the door to see a massive chasm in a even larger cavern chamber. The chasm was spanned by a web bridge. On the far side of the bridge, a towering cathedral with a webbed entrance awaited. To their right and left, thousands of drow were approaching.
The four ran across the bridge, even as they were spotted by the approaching drow armies. Rift burned the web bridge. To the right of the webbed entrance was a smooth obsidian rock, slightly larger than a hand. It glistened as though some drying liquid covered it. Z’alden recalled the voice he had heard. Before the others knew it, he had sliced open his palm and put his bleeding hand on the rock. The webbed door opened. Barrick’s jaw dropped, “How did you know to do that?” Z’alden just shrugged, “This seemed like a question. The voice had said `blood is the answer.` By the Claws, I guess it was.” As the webbed door opened and the armies converged, the four dove through the door, and Z’alden quickly found a similar rock that with his hand as the key, closed the door.
They were inside a massive temple structure, perhaps 80 staff lengths across. In the center of was a huge obsidian statue of a spider with the torso of a woman.
“The demon goddess Lolth,” little Miro blurted out, “Z’alden must have hated to see that!” His siblings nodded vigorously, knowing the cleric so well. Torben said, “Indeed, he vehemently told me how he could not wait to desecrate it, just as soon as they figured out what to do next.”
The statue had eight jeweled eyes. Tira quickly remembered what her voice had said about “stealing a glance.” She and Barrick climbed up, and Tira began to remove the magical jewels. Z’alden and Rift explored the room. At the far end from the door, Z’alden found a secret door that opened into a small chamber filled with gold, goblets, and 3 scrolls. The cleric opened the magical bag of holding that contained far more than the human eye would suspect. Not unlimited amounts, but an incredible about of space in an ordinary brown sack no bigger than Gella’s head.
“Like that could contain anything,” Mijfox laughed as he rubbed her head playfully and the others chuckled. “Indeed,” said Torben. “But the magical sack contained a king’s ransom of potions, magic items, and gold. Z’alden would normally have taken good care of it to stow it again, but he never got the chance.” Torben paused to take another sip of tea. Still hot. Good. It soothed his sore throat. His grandchildren waited impatiently for him to continue the story.
Just as Tira removed the last jewel, dropping from the ceiling, horrific giant spiders descended like lightening. Two zipped down, webbed Tira and Barrick and disappeared into the darkness above. Another two landed on the ground, one near Z’alden and one near the wizard. The spider closest to Z’alden launched a web at the cleric. He tried to spin away, but the webbing caught on the magical sack. Quick as a wink, the spider then pulled it out of Z’alden’s hands and webbed it to its body. Z’alden had lost the bag of holding to this thieving spider. He was incensed, but there was little he could do. He called out to Rift to root this spider in its place.
Above, Tira and Barrick had an aerial battle in the web of these thieving spiders. Tira lassoed the other spider, teleported free from the restraining web, and swung underneath the spider. If it moved, so would she. With her right hand, she twirled her enchanted dagger and sent a huge ball of light at the spider which burst and burned it. Immediately, the ball collapsed and a wave of cold covered the venomous beast, causing great pain. But, the spider spit out its venom at her, hitting her right arm. The arm went numb. Her magical dagger was no longer in her grasp. It fell to the ground of the temple some many feet below.
Barrick, also trapped in a web well above the temple floor, sharpened his axe and a mad gleam glinted from his eye. He sliced at the webs holding him, and plunged to the ground, maybe 200 feet below. But, the dwarf was not injured. The magical ring on his thumb, a ring of flight, made him float gently to the ground. As he landed, Z’alden pointed to the thieving spider, and Barrick charged it, getting stroke after stroke of his axe into the nightmarish arachnid. It turned to face him, but its fangs were no match for the experienced fighter’s shield.
Hanging from the spider, Tira dodged the venom it tried to spit at her. The poison interacted with the chaos of magic surrounding her. An explosion of light and magic, and the spider had stunned itself. Tira laughed.
The webbed door of the temple opened. In stepped a regal bearing drow priestess carrying an ebony rod in her right hand and a blood red jewel in her left. She crushed the jewel and blue webbed cocoon encapsulated Rift. The wizard was trapped. The priestess intoned, “You will feel the wrath of Arraxis of Lore!”
Sheila nodded, “so this is Arraxis. And, she trapped Rift. Now I get it.” The others murmured their understanding. They had gotten to the story of Arraxis. “The webbing of Arraxis was worse than the four would have believed,” Torben’s voice became animated. “The webbing was not so thick that Rift could not see, but her spells could not penetrate it. And, Arraxis could control Rift.”
At Arraxis’s command, the wizard moved next to the priestess. Arraxis’s hand easily passed through the webbing. “Give me your staff,” the priestess demanded. And, Rift complied.
“No!” shouted Liam. “Rift handed over Darkstar! How could she!” The other children were equally appalled. Torben had them now. “The drow bytch was powerful and controlled the great wizard’s mind.”
But, Rift’s friends were not so helpless. Tira remembered a potion that Z’alden had made for her. A potion that, once consumed, would let her fly. Pulling a spare magic dagger from her boot, she quickly drank and flew down from the web nest, launching her powerful Chaos Orbs while on the trajectory.
Barrick engaged the spider holding their valuable magic sack. He used the moves he knew so well to fight with a giant of beast like this and slay them. Back, around, forward, under, the arachnid could barely withstand the dwarf’s rapid, cutting blows. But, the thief did not fall.
Close to the door, Arraxis ordered Rift to give her the amulet protecting the wizard. Then, Arraxis opened her mouth, and an inky blackness of poison gas and dark magic enveloped the nearby Tira, nearly killing the sorceress in one breath. Z’alden felt helpless. Tira was too far away for his healing to reach her.
Rift shook her head vigorously and banished the bytch of a priestess from her mind. And realized that she could destroy the webbing encasing her. Then, the powerful wizard made time stop. Yes, stop. With all others frozen in time, the eladrin, calmly walked to Arraxis, took back her staff and amulet, slaps her in the face, and moves away to ready her next attack spell as time moves forward again.
Imagine what happens as it occurs. From her dagger, Tira launches a chaotic ray of energy at Arraxis. The priestess is not immune, but venom shoots forth from her, and both Tira’s arms go numb. The priestess approaches, and almost for the first time, the adventurers can see a cloud of small spiders surrounds her. Just being in this cloud, one will get bitten and stuck on the unnatural webs that surround her.
Even as his friends engage these enemies, to Z’alden’s horror, the thieving spider jumps up in the air 16 staff lengths, shoots a web into the nest in the blackness above and disappears, with their magical sack still attached to itself. Not rooted in place, Z’alden quickly moves closer to the remaining battle, still numb at the loss of powerful magic and goods in the bag.
Arraxis aims her rod at the wizard. A black necrotic bolt of powerful energy, clearly enough to slay the wizard comes barreling down on the Eladrin. Rift grasps Darkstar as if to absorb the powerful spell. And, it does! Darkstar crackles as though charged with the necrotic power. Rift twirls the staff over her head and then points it at the drow priestess, sending her spell back from whence it came, slaying the priestess. But, the spiders had no such problem. Their vicious fangs bite into Tira and Barrick, sending both to the floor unconscious. They are dying of poison.
“No!” shouted little Gella. The others looked equally horrified. Torben held out his hand, as if to signal not to interrupt.
This time, the cleric of Bahamut was not so far away. Silver and purple flames instantly bathed both of his friends at once. Their eyes fluttered, even as their wounds mended. Blasts of radiant light from the cleric slew one of the spiders. The other fled to the nest far above.
The adventurers worried not about the goods that had vanished above. Instead, they opened the door and peered into the massive cavern. Thousands of drow surrounded the entrance. Rift moved the others to the side and behind her. The eladrin rolled up her sleeves, grabbed Darkstar, and slammed it to the ground. “I have had enough!” Brilliant light burst forth from the staff with a sound like a lute smashing into the ground. Wave after wave of drow were obliterated. “Darkstar burns brighter, indeed,” Barrick muttered.
Barrick called out, “Follow me. Jump into the chasm itself.” Tira looked quizzically, “But that seems like certain death.” “Exactly,” said the smirking dwarf as he dove off into the chasm and the others, perplexed, exhausted, followed.
They vanished and, each saw the vision again. And, each reported hearing a little chuckling. They recognized the sound this time. The lich wizard Ur Feyn, with whom they had a made a pact just a few weeks earlier. He had sent them to the Underdark somehow.
As they reappeared back on the Centurion to the relief of a startled Erik, Tira swore, “Damn. That lich took the eight jeweled eyes from my pocket. Steal a glance. Ha!”
The seven children laughed, too. It was the only story that they could recall where the heroes won, but lost much of value. The tale of Arraxis was one to remember.