Keeping watch over the City of Webs was the immense stalactite named Runemaster Tower, or to uneducated the Dangling Tower. It was the largest stalactite over Ched Nasad; intricately carved with arcane symbols in patterns that formed larger empowered sigils focusing the arcane energies around it. It was the seat of arcane power.
In Ched Nasad arcane magic and its use was a carefully regulated and policed to protect the structural integrity of the ancient calcified webbing that supported the entire drow city. The only way to practice arcane magic in the drow city was with the possession of a House Rune. Similar to the watermarks in Stormhaven, each house in Ched Nasad had unique House Runes as well as magical signatures specific to individuals of their house. Only the drow Runemasters of the tower knew the secret magic behind the creation of House Runes. It was a structure any drow or visitor to Ched Nasad would recognize immediately just as Shar Auvryndar did the night he and his companions found it.
Shar remembered what grandfather Domarlynnas recounted back in Skullport. "While you and the rest of the family were holding off House Ta’alen in battle, I saw it when Runemaster tower let go. It was the death blow for the city." He had said.
Shar imagined Runemaster Tower breaking free from the city's cavern ceiling, a lightning blast severing the tower; its enormous size falling and smashing through thousand year old web thoroughfares and byways, to come crashing down here... in Cormanthor.
What Shar and his companions encountered was a wide butte of worked black stone the top of which was an uneven slope that gave it dome shape. Runemaster tower penetrated the earth like an assassin's dirk and had came to rest with all but the top most level below ground. The stone black monolith retained all the outer designs of Runemaster Tower but had no apparent entrances.
Approaching out of the shadows Shar produced his House Insignia, crafted by an unknown mage from this same tower decades ago, Shar suspected he knew how the renegade drow were coming and going.
Inside what was once Runemaster Tower, High Priestess Telefe Drodeen began the profane words of invocation in the high speech of the drow clergy; this exclusive language was taught to only a few because it was said Lloth herself taught the language to her first daughters.
"Great Goddess, Mother of the Dark, grant me the blood of my enemies for drink and their living hearts for meat. Grant me the screams of their young for song, grant me the helplessness of their males for my satisfaction, grand me the wealth of their houses for my bed. By this unworthy sacrifice I honor you, Queen of Spiders, and beseech of you the strength to destroy my foes."
The ceremony of words was required as was sacrificing one of her most powerful clerical spells to strengthen her connection with Lloth. When she completed her invocation she bent forward and took up a twisted black mace.
The Rod of the Recluse was crafted from the chitonous leg of a drider. It looked ornamental rather than serviceable, but upon Telefe's command the rod secreted a deadly extraplanar poison that could be delivered with a touch and thanks to the Runemasters it was a relic that only responded to her own commands. Telefe felt the willing rod twist and flex in her hands and voice of Lloth in her ear. Again speaking from the mouthes of her children.
“...sacrifice the grandson of Darien Auvryndar to me, earn my assurances lowly creature and I will bestow upon you the title of Arachne..."
To do otherwise would damn Telefe to the abyss.
Outside her personal chambers Zara could hear Frizzt organizing the other drow to defend the tower complex, his impassioned words reminded her of his oath and his newfound penchant as her manservant and protector.
Wiping the sweat from her brow she then dawned her magical cloak over her naked body, stroked her eye wing perched nearby and padded lightly to her chamber door. She opened it to find Frizzt speaking curtly to drow from both Houses.
"Two groups of three, one Drodeen warpriest with two Nasadra duskblades. The third warpriest will stay below to protect the High Priestess' twins and make sure the slaves do not attempt an escape. Then," Frizzt continued. "Myself, Priestess Telefe and Princess Nasadra will come up after you make initial contact with the intruders."
Zara crept up slowly behind her manservant, her lithe form was sensual under her drow crafted cloak. "The Priestess says there is a group of six surface dwellers traveling with a renegade drow." Zara advised. "This drow is Shar Auvryndar and is to be captured. The others may die for their inconvenience."
Endrenn Allerendris did not have a choice really; lead Shar and his companions to Runemaster tower or suffer humanity's justice in Tragidore. She was nevertheless grateful when the Red Wizard approached her with a proposition.
"I will stand with you and your kin against the people of Tragidore and to show my sincerity I will release you. I do not pretend to understand all of drow politics, I do however know the value of a highborn Auvryndar noble. I will release your restraints when the proper time presents itself and immediately move to neutralize Shar and you..." The Red Wizard tore a page from his tome, folded it and secreted it between her breasts. His sultry eyes met hers. "Tear this open and it will become an assassins dirk. You will use it to kill the Inquisitor."
Endrenn believed that time was soon at hand; after hours of vigorous travel Endrenn led them to where she sent scores of Tragidore men all year: a black stone dirk in the heart of the elven forest.
Nostalgia stuck Shar unexpectedly causing him to pause before the back domed monolith, behind him Meaghan placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. To Shar's right and left were his companions along with the elf-drow Endrenn. Shar's eyes focused on his House Insignia and pressed it to Runemaster tower's stony exterior. It was how one accessed private rooms and corridors inside fortunately it worked from the outside too.
Starting at the point which the Auvryndar house rune touched the stone, a tunnel began to borrow an opening. The tunnel looked to be at least twenty feel long before it ended in silent darkness. A strange odor began to waft out from the opening, it had a heavy earthen aroma.
"I do not know how long this will stay open," Shar said. "We should prepare immediately."
Through her eye wing companion Zara Nasadra could see outside star light cast into Frizzt's alchemical garden and workstations.
"Movement in your greenhouse Frizzt." Zara said informing the others of the tower breach.
"Did not take Shar long to discover how to get in... do they have Endrenn with them?" Frizzt asked Zara, concerned.
"Yes." came the female reply.
Taking one final look at her beloved twins before the warpriest took them below, Telefe then turned her hate and rage to thoughts of the intruders. "Warpriests lead the duskblades to the alchemy level." She said as the Rod of the Recluse writhed about with purpose.
"Hold that last." Frizzt said knowingly overstepping his station as a male. "Hold them as our second line, fortune favors us High Priestess."
It was Sanford in the lead with Blain the dwarf at his hip, both moving at half speed as to not make any unnecessary noise, although a ten foot round tunnel would probably give them up regardless, thankfully Sanford and the gunslinger did not rely on stealth.
Claudia and Elad moved in tandem, reconnected in form and style; whatever had come between them in recent days seemed now forgotten. Things were different with Elad, Claudia mused, after the night the Lamia was killed Elad seemed to have a new perspective on Tragidore and more importantly his obligations to the Shadow Thieves. She did not want to have to kill him.
Shar and the Red Wizard paused at the tunnel opening, Tyrus giving Shar a gesture that said 'after you.' Behind Shar the Inquisitor followed, the elf-drow Endrenn in her custody. Lastly Tyrus, with one last sinister look at the forest he followed his companions into the drow complex.
Overhead the vile gaze of the invisible eyewing watched it all.
"Not yet damn it!"
The tunnel opened into a foggy and damp chamber, Sanford doubted he could see five feet in front of him. The heavy sweet smell of flowers washed over the large fighter threatening his allergies when he noticed...
Struggling on the floor beside him was Blain, thick green vines coiled around the dwarf constricting the air from his lungs stealing away his breath and pleas for help. Sanford drew his blades and began to cut away the vines. His efforts were slowed and then halted as more vines coiled out from the fog in an attempt to bring down the burly Sanford next to the gunslinger dwarf.
"Now Priestess send in your teams." Frizzt said after Zara relayed what she saw through the eyewing.
It was not working. Every time someone got close enough to sunder the thick green vines that were constricting Blain a new branch would respond threatening to entangle them as well. Shar looked for the source of the creature to target with a spell but could not see through the thick fog. Meghan handed off the elf-drow prisoner to Tyrus whom the Red Wizard accepted eagerly. Claudia Kelton and Elad Edals dragged Sanford away before more vines made his rescue pointless. Blain was gone, dragged into the fog.
From the darkness drow elves charged the companions with blackened weapons and deadly skill. The female warpriests immediately moved to contain Shar while the male duskblades descended on Meghan, Sanford, Claudia, and Elad. Tyrus, the Red Wizard, in a moment of extacy freed Endrenn and turned his betrayer attention on Shar.
It was only two days ago when Shar rescued Endrenn from her own form of servitude. Speaking moments after the Lamia was slain Endrenn told Shar she was also a slave to Zara and Telefe. They scorned her surface elf heritage and said she was an abomination.
"If what you say is true then you will get a chance to prove yourself." Shar said in drow. "You are taking us to them."
In her own act of betrayal Endrenn took the weapon Tyrus gave her and buried it in the Red Wizard's neck staining his robes a deeper red. There was a bright and sudden arcane backlash knocking Endrenn unconscious to the stone floor.
Frizzt could hear the duskblades and warpriests fighting Shar and his companions in his alchemy garden of horrors. With alchemical bombs in hand Frizzt was just about to enter the fray when dazzling light flooded room. Screams of pain drowned the din of battle as the light sensitive drow were caught off guard.
Taking precautions Frizzt appeared briefly at the lab's entrance. Smiling the drow alchemist could see his man-trap plant had captured on of the intruders; the duskblades are one on one with the humans; and the two warpriests are tangled up with an Inquisitor and their quarry Shar Auvryndar.
Frizzt was about to let fly his bombs when he saw Endrenn lying unmoving on the floor, tangled silver hair covering her beautiful features. The normally composed Frizzt Boz'Wevial screamed and began to throw bombs, oils and bags into the fray in a fit of rage. These concoctions did not explode but instead released dire boars, porcupines, and worgs to give him and his fellow drow strength in numbers.
The Priestess Telefe ran in behind Frizzt, her eyes finding her quarry target center. Her warpriests had Shar backed into a space between two alchemy workstations and the wall. The duskblades however were outmatched. The humans had split into a men and women formation dropping two Nasadra duskblades in less than a minute despite the large animals now trampling the room.
Telefe was about to relay to Zara what she could already see through her eyewing when one of the human women came to Shar's aid relieving him of one of his combatants. The woman had a blue aura that insulted Telefe's profane awareness. Without a thought the Cleric of Lloth charged into Frizzt's green house toward the human inquisitor the rod of the recluse leading the way.
Shar fought off the drow warpriest as best as he could but in three curt strikes from the drow woman left Shar injured, winded and off balance. Meghan was a better combatant by far, but he could not rely on her for aid now. Looking around everyone was locked in mortal combat with a drow or an enraged beast.
Avoiding another warpriest attack Shar's eyes fell on Frizzt and then Tyrus's grimore lying next to his body. The Red Wizard acquired the tome by recently murdering a necromancer from Thay, the tome had the taint of sin; it was also Mystra's will that Shar should recover it. Leaving Meghan one against two Shar moved for the book just as Frizzt began his scramble for the book.
Frizzt, aside from being an alchemist he also bore the mark of sin, so when he saw the Red Wizard's tainted book fall unattended to the ground an overwhelming sensation of avarice flooded him. He moved for the book.
In a lower level of the tower Zara watched the battle through the eyewing with growing interest. Frizzt's alchemical creatures were all dead as was his horrific plant; Telefe has joined the fight with the human inquisitor, as the warpriests are now one on one with a large man and a sly scoundrel looking human who looked to have just backstabbed one of his own companions- the girl!
"The High Priestess needs healing or she will fall." Zara impassioned to the drow warpriest tasked with keeping the twins safe. When the warpriest began to protest Zara added, "I am not the healer you are- I will protect the twins."
The warpriest only hesitated once then ran up to the next level unaware she had been tricked.
Shar reached out and grabbed the top of the tainted book just as Frizzt grasped the bottom. Envy, wrath, all the sins within and the magics to enhance them- all contained upon ancient scraphite. Inhuman sacrifices to facilitate each sin to one's self or others.
Shar remembered Meghan's teachings that as Monitor of Magic he cannot allow such a taint to magic exist. It must be destroyed or secreted away from evil forever.
Zara Nasadra, now alone with Ebomara and Maastick Drodeen, watched as the last duskblade fell and the last warpriest join the battle giving tactical assistance to the High Priestess. Another drow fell as Frizzt and Shar wrestled over a book, its cover and pages turning and flapping chaotically. Zara then recalled her abyssal companion.
"It is just us now, right?" Asked Maastick.
"That's right my consort, its time to go." Zara said thinking of how she will miss having a man servant then looked at Maastick with amorous intent. She was the last princess of her house and these two were about to be the last Drodeen nobles.
"Where are we going?" Asked Ebomara.
"To start a new family." Zara answered as her eyewing entered the chamber. Gathering the twins close Zara cast teleportation. It would be centuries before Shar heard the name Drodeen again.
Seconds ticked by and it seemed to Shar that it was just him and Frizzt fighting for the tainted book. Then it let go sending Shar and Frizzt flying backwards; Shar into Meghan and Frizzt into Telefe. The book tore open releasing a torrent of magical energy throughout the alchemy lab.
Two days later Meghan along with Sanford, and Elad Edals led forty two men and husbands back to Tragidore to a bitter sweet homecoming celebration. Ice wine, food and music. Blain Brightmantle, and Claudia Kelton were honored for their sacrifice in returning the town's men; there was no mention of Tyrus Skullstorm.
There was however questions about Shar at this one of the freed men Finian Garwoode said, "That drow is the exception to the rule. I expect we will see him again."