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Family Bonds

Paithen Elvenstar met with a shady contact of his in Undumoor, parting ways shortly thereafter with Lyr, Gunder, Bodin, and Elisanada. His connection led him to another contact, a shady fellow who provided him a lead on a missing relative of his, now suspected to be in the Underchasm.

A letter brought him, Nick, Aulder, and a new companion Nalkir to a city on the Thayan coast, where Paithan was surprised to find his cousin Immeral. At one moment, she interrupted and became suspicious, claiming that Paithen’s double had just walked into the tavern, then left just as quickly. She wasn’t able to spot him outside, however, and the party did not pursue him.

Eventually deciding to head down to Eartheart, they hired onto the Parttisa, a ship in a small mercantile fleet. The ship was attacked en route, and Immeral was lost at sea, pulled overboard by tentacled monsters. Nick and Paithen were especially heartbroken, and the skies seemed to open up and weep with their grief.

In the rainstorm, resting in a camouflaged campsite in the woods near Eartheart, the party found a strange eladrin woman standing in the rain, soaked to the bone, staring at them. They broke cover and invited her closer. She appeared to be tall, extremely underfed, and filthy, but dressed in almost absurdly form-fitting red leather armor and extremely impractical laced boots. A heavy steel collar ringed her neck. If not for the rain washing rivulets of dirt off her skin, it would be hard to even see the strange tattoos around her collarbone. She carried a longsword with the Elvenstar crest on it, a weapon lightly tarnished with age and disuse.

After a long, almost painful pause, she looked at Nick and said “Desidero Nicola Cassini.” It was half question, half statement. Nick seemed surprised by her comment, then introduced himself as “Nick.” The woman seemed stunned by his nickname, but the party began to gently interrogate her about her past. When asked, she said the drow called her “Nindel Ushdui’el,” and she seemed not to recognize the name Paithen called her, “Gwendolynsee.”

Indeed, despite the ruin of her body and the distraction of her mind, Paithen recognized her as his cousin, missing now for over 50 years, and presumed captured by the drow several decades ago. Gwendlynsee had been a swordmage herself before her capture.

The party offered to help her with whatever she needed, but Nindel seemed not to understand the offer in the slightest. She also seemed to have no real sense of time, or memory. As she and Aulder talked, however, she indicated a couple of stealthily-moving figures in the shadows, moving in for the attack.

The party fought a group of drow, including a priestess, and a pair of monstrous spiders. During the fight, it became clear that Nindel was no slouch— though she was nowhere near as formidable as Nalkir and Nick. Partway through the fight, one of the drow immolated himself in service to Lolth, and the resulting explosion flayed Nindel. She screamed, a wordless, soundless howl in the minds of allies and enemies alike, falling prone and momentarily dazed by the pain that had coursed through her.

When the fight was over, and the party was attending to their wounds, they noticed tattooed words scrawled over Nindel’s arms, back, and chest. The words, written in drow, addressed Nick by his full name and invited him to attend upon one of the drow matrons in the Underchasm, and to kindly return her “toy” when he came.

Nick’s reply came in the form of an elegantly written note, drawn in ink on one of the captured drow warriors. In brief: it declined the invitation. Nick has no intention of returning a slave to the kind ministrations of the Underdark.

The session stopped with the party preparing to interrogate the drow warriors. It is clear, however, that they do not belong to the same house as the matron who sent Nindel.

Leads: Paithen’s double. Entities moving against the Elvenstar family. The sahuagin attack. The sahuagin crown and the Parttisa’s role in transporting it. The drow attack. Nindel’s tattooed message. Immeral’s disappearance/death.

Rewards: XP and treasure to be posted later by Will.

Comments

Nindel stood staring at the odd group of humanoids. Two drow, one elf, and one of those short, fat people the drow disdained…. dwarves. Two drow. One with pale, almost grey skin.

He is an exile and will be with elves and other non-drow. She cocked her head, staring at her quarry. The other drow glanced up at her, meeting her eyes. He nudged his companions, indicating her standing in the dark night, the rain sleeting over her.

The elf— no, he was eladrin— unfolded himself from the small, foliage-bent shelter and approached. Behind him, the dwarf and drow positioned themselves in positions that looked casual, but had tactical significance.

“Hello?” the eladrin called out. He looked her up and down briefly, noting her strange armor and the weapon on her side.

Hello, she thought at him. I come for Desidario Nicola Cassini. He is the grey skinned one with you, I suspect?

The eladrin kept approaching cautiously. “Are you all right? Would you like to come into our shelter? Please— come in out of the rain.”

Nindel looked down at her arms. Water coursed over her, and she realized she was quite wet. She looked up, brow furrowed. It was falling from the ceiling. This must be a very damp cave, with perhaps a fissure…. or was it possible she was already outside?

Desidario Nicola Cassini, she repeated. She blinked, feeling stupid. She had forgotten that these folk would not read her mind as effortlessly as the mindflayers. It had been a while since the last time she had parlayed with the drow. She would need to use speech again.

She opened her mouth and spoke his full name.

The grey-skinned drow stared back at her, astonished. “Well… not many know me by it, but yes. Most people call me Nick, though. The pleasure is mine… but it may also be yours.” His lips curled into a smooth smile, but she did not react as he seemed to hope.

“Nick.” Nindel thought of the hours of pain lancing through her arm. In the end, she hadn’t been strong enough and the drow had had to paralyze her to finish the work. ”If you do not hold still, I will have you paralyzed until it is done, and we will use more venomous inks”. She blinked at him. “Your name is Nick.” Tears sprang to her eyes.

“Yes… but it’s not a bad name, really— you needn’t cry…”

She nodded, brushing a hand up against her eyes. “You have a very long name.”

The eladrin stepped closer to her, staring at her weapon. He peered into her face, shaking his head in sorrow. “We lost one, in recovering another,” he murmured. He cleared his throat, then asked more loudly, “What’s your name?”

“The drow call me Nindel Ushdui’el,” she replied. And I am here for Nick…. Nick. Such a simple name. She almost cried again, but swallowed her pain instead. Her master would be pleased by this memory, as sharp as it had hurt.

They led her under their shelter and the dwarf started checking her over while the eladrin questioned her.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Nindel’s mouth curled. How to explain that to someone whose mind was bound to time? She tried, failed, and found her speech just confused him. She glanced over at Nick and Nalkyr.

Nalkyr the drow had the kind of hard edge to him that she recognized from her masters. This was a being of violence. She knew that streak. She would be watchful, in case he needed something. It was wise to ensure the most violent masters were happy.

But Nick… surprised her. He did not seem to want anything from her besides information. And in fact, several times he said “how can we help you?”

She’d stared at him for a long moment, trying to tell him. Help me by coming with me. Please my masters by attending to them. But she kept her mouth silent. There was still time. She was not required to bring him back just yet.

She could stay for a little while, perhaps even long enough. Maybe she could see the stars?

“How did you get here?” Nick was speaking again.

“I walked.” This was true, although she had also teleported when she was tired.

“Does the name Gwendolynsee mean anything to you?” The eladrin again.

She stared at him curiously. He was such a strange eladrin. Like drow, but very pale, and somehow less imposing. “Should it?”

“I think it’s your name.”

Nindel didn’t acknowledge this statement. She didn’t have a name. She was just “that crazy one.”

The dwarf had finished examining her body. He had poked and prodded her, making surprised noises at some of her scars and badly-healed bones. He withdrew with the others while she sat in the shelter, closing her eyes, apparently lost in her own thoughts.

But she was listening.

“She’s filthy, so I can’t see all the damage, but she has scars everywhere. Evidence of broken bones, strangulation, and at least one major head injury— it looks… deliberate, and industrial. Like a vice… on her head.” He let that sink in for a moment, noting Nick’s horrified reaction. “Not to mention her behavior, of course. If she hasn’t had her marbles rattled by some major trauma, I’ll be shocked. Was she like this before, Paithan?”

The eladrin shook his head. “She was a sword mage, strong and smart. What she is now… it’s just sad, isn’t it?”

“Aulder, perhaps you can keep talking to her, find out what’s wrong with her?” Nick suggested. “Use your healing craft, maybe?”

“I’ll try, but matters of the mind aren’t my strong suit,” the dwarf replied. He returned to Nindel and sat down before her. She glanced up and over at Nick. He wanted to know what was wrong with her? She could show him the stars…. no, best not. She didn’t think they needed two “crazy ones,” here. Perhaps later, when they were home, she would take him to the pool of stars and give him understanding.

She shivered slightly at the thought.

The dwarf began to talk with her, the conversation ranging over a few subjects before settling on a theme of time. He seemed particularly curious about her lack of a coherent memory or sense of time. For her own part, she found it frustrating not to be able to explain how tomorrow and yesterday and a thousand years ago were all the same moment.

Finally, she interrupted him. “I don’t want to talk anymore,” she said quietly. “I think those men are going to attack us now.”

Indeed, a group of drow warriors had crept up during their conversation, surrounding the camp. The rest of the group leapt to their feet and took up defensive positions. As their priestess of Lolth began to cast, Nalkyr’s bow string twanged and let fly his arrows against the attacking drow. Despite Nick’s shouts of attempted parlay, the fight was on.

In the ensuing combat, Nindel demonstrated that, while she was no longer a sword mage, she was far from “sad” in battle. Her longsword, an eladrin-crafted thing of beauty bearing the house crest of the Elvenstar family (although the sigil was meaningless to her) flashed out, striking her foes viciously and to good effect. She seemed to be everywhere in the combat at once, moving instantly around to slash and befoul their foes. Her close attacks warped space around her, or she would summon star fire on her enemies from afar.

But before unleashing her powers against the priestess, Nindel called to her— “Leave us alone. We have tokens. Do you have tokens?” The drow— indeed, the whole party— looked at her as if she were crazy.

Aulder’s fine control of time hindered their enemies badly, causing them to move slowly and frustrating their attacks. Both Paithan and Nalkyr placed protections on Nindel so the most brutal of the enemies could not hurt her without suffering themselves.

And then the explosion. Nindel saw dark tendrils lash out from the exploding drow as millions of spider bites bit her flesh. Worse, the poisoned drow ink flared up inside her, burning its way to the surface, searing her skin. She screamed and fell to her knees, unaware that her shriek had sounded in her allies’ minds, not their ears. She summoned her healing reserves to aid herself. She inhaled deeply, seeming to turn a switch in her mind and converting her pain into joy.

She stood and struck out at the drow priestess, ignoring the monstrous spider as it swiped at her. When the priestess was hit by the flames of her stars, she turned the fire on the nearby warrior as well, blasting him with the same fire. Their pain fed back to her mind, and she smiled as it soothed her own wounds.

When the fight was over, the rain had washed enough dirt from Nindel’s skin that new tattoos were readable on her arms, chest, and back:

To Desidario Nicola Cassini—

You are cordially invited to House Rilyn’Ardulnad to discuss business of mutual interest. Try to make it alive, and please bring my pet with you.

Regards,
Matron Zenta Ordiel Rilyn’Ardulnad

On her neck, under the thick metal collar, Nick could also read a set of much older tattoos which spelled in drow script: “Property of House Rilyn’Ardulnad and the Nad-Orgolleth. Violators will be obliterated.” There were additional runes beneath it— Nick recognized them as Deep Speech, but couldn’t read it.

He frowned and looked over at the drow males they had taken prisoner, sudden anger stiffening every muscle. He extracted some materials from his backpack and went over to one of them. Spending a short moment to compose a note in his mind, he wrote a curt, efficient letter in response. His elegant script sprawled over the drow’s chest in glistening silver ink:

Matron Zenta Ordiel Rilyn’ARdulnad, High Priestess of the Dark Lady, Keeper of Secrets and Mistress of the Demonweb:

While I am most flattered at your mellifluous invitation, I must with full regrets provide you with the most unpardonable of offenses, a reluctant demur to visit your esteemed presence and estate.

A thousand apologies.
Desidario Nikola Cassini, nee House Cassini

Rising from his work, he looked over at his companions, a steely glint in his eyes. “There’s no way I’m going back there, and even less chance I’ll do it to return their slave,” he commented coldly.

Nindel looked up at him, surprise evident in her star-bound eyes. He was refusing to go to the masters? She hadn’t considered that possibility, though the drow had hinted at it. She looked away, abruptly. She felt the tokens of safe passage, safely hidden in the inside pocket of her skirt, a secret waiting to betray her.

She was giddy with relief, but also worried. He was going to refuse the matron. He would not go home with her. There would be more drow— this recent patrol was not the first she’d encountered, and she was certain it would not be the last. There would be trouble for his refusal. They would have his blood for the insolence of his reply. When Nindel finally returned, she would be rightly punished, and it would be agony before oblivion.

But.

If he held out long enough, she would see the stars.

An eerie smile spread across her face. Paithan was looking at her at the time and felt a cold shiver run down his spine.

There was definitely something not right about his poor, lost cousin.

Family Bonds
mortaine

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