The yuan-ti leapt from the woods, blades pointed at the adventurers. Ascanor rolled away as a point drove into the ground where his head had been. He tossed the magic missile in his hand towards the monster before readying another. The creature hissed as the magical bolt struck it in the face. It dropped its blade, grasping its face. Ascanor, seizing the opportunity, spun in with his sword, slashing sideways. The yuan-ti's arm fell off before Ascanor twisted back around and delivered the final blow.
"Please," Alandil shot an arrow into the elbow of a yuan-ti, making it drop its sword, "try not to kill them. This could prove to be a lucky chance to discover this species."
Ereven drove his axe into the hissing face of a yuan-ti archer. "Forget that! This scum needs to die."
Ascanor cleared his throat. "Behind you." He shot a missile through the creature's throat. It gurgled, collapsing to the ground in a pool of its acidic blood. Ascanor pulled the tails of his overcoat back as one hacked up a corrosive gob at him. His stomach churned at the sight. "Watch out guys, these things can spit."
Alandil nodded. "Most interesting. It appears to be a specially developed corrosive venom that runs through their bodies. This is unlike any species I have ever seen recorded. Interesting indeed."
"For the love of gods, who gives a crap!" Ereven bellowed as he drove his axe clean through a yuan-ti's sword into the snake's skull. "Kill them!"
"But this could be quite the opportunity for research!" The elf spun as a snake spat at the ground beneath his feet. He scowled at the smoke rising from the tails of his cloak. Without taking a chance to aim, he let an arrow fly straight through the snake's forehead, dropping it dead instantly.
Ascanor somersaulted past another gob of hissing goo. "Does the fox just not fight or-"
"Oh, she's around here somewhere."
A globe of fire hissing between Ascanor's horns, exploding in the face of a yuan-ti. Sharyas dropped down from a tree, small orbs of fire dancing around her tails. She giggled. "Always where you least expect it." She jumped in the air, flipping over a yuan-ti. As she jumped, she lightly touched the ground beneath its tail. The ground rippled, tossing the snake into the air as a massive hand rose to launch it into the sky. Ascanor frowned, the skewed magical essence alignment apparent to him. The hand crumbled under the weight of the snake, who moved to attack the kitsune, who hurled ball of fire into its face. She giggled again, obviously ignoring her magical mishap, as she spun several more orbs of fox-fire into her hands. She disappeared into the shadows, the only sign of her movement the dancing balls within her hand.
Ascanor, lost in trance, ducked, narrowly missing the slash of a yuan-ti. Something green dripped from the sword to his skin. He yelped as his skin shriveled and hissed. Sweeping the snake's body from underneath he rolled away from the monster. As the creature fell it dropped its sword. Ascanor howled as the blade plunged into his upper arm. He felt the venom spread into his arm, like a thousand bees tearing their way through his flesh. He reached deep into himself, drawing upon all the magical energy he could find. He could sense it coalescing into cones around him. With a roar, he sent the missiles out at once, like a chorus of screaming banshees. When he opened his eyes, he saw corpses lying in the swimming murk of his vision. He stumbled along the ground. Where are they? His lips felt like sandpaper, his throat like the Tortured Land. He took another step when his legs turned to rubber and he crashed to the ground. He struggled, trying to pull himself up. Something landed on his back, grabbing him and pulling him up. He turned around, the sylvan face of the elf distorted like his eyes became warped glass.
"Oh dear, he appears to have strained himself." Alandil's voice sounded like he was in water.
"P-p..." Ascanor struggled with consciousness. He fell to his knees.
Alandil knelt down. "What is it?"
"Poison." His vision went black as the ground met his face.
Ascanor lay on the ground, unconscious. Alandil placed a thin hand on his forehead. He shook his head. "I do not know if it his tiefling flesh or a fever."
Sharyas' face wrinkled. "He smells dead already."
"Well, he will be very soon if we don't get an antidote in him."
Ereven scoffed from where he polished his axe. "Leave him for the crows. He's no better than the yuan-ti."
Irritation crept into the elf's silken voice. "You know he's half human. You're practically related."
"Yeah, and half demon. I never asked for him to come along. I say let him die, he's just one less abomination in this-" He yelped as Sharyas slapped him hard across the face.
"Now that's no way to talk about him. He saved our lives. You should be thankful."
Ereven looked away, nursing the bruising cheek. "Good thing I won't have to tell him."
Alandil scowled. "I'm losing him. Sharyas, I need an antidote now."
"Well I don't know how to combat poison."
"But you do know the easiest way to find plants. Quick, I need the stalk of the spongeleaf, some Nectar of Asterias, and a Flowercap Toadstool."
She nodded, morphing into a fox. "My nose is the best around, I will be back quickly."
"Unfortunately, you can't afford any other speed." He ran his fingers across Ascanor's forehead, pulling back the sweat. He gave it a sniff. "There is a great amount of venom in his body. I was not aware the yuan-ti would coat their blades in their blood, otherwise I would not have let such an unarmored man get so close. His body is desperately trying to eject as much of the venom as it can, but it's a losing battle." Alandil pulled a small vial from the folds of his shirt. "I'll give him a healing potion, but it'll only delay the effects." He pulled off the cork, tipping Ascanor's mouth open. The tiefling's face relaxed as the liquid poured down his throat. "There, now we can only wait." Ereven said nothing. "I would like to know why you are so against another comrade. It seems like this battle ended much quicker than our last."
"We were fighting a displacer beast, Alandil."
"Yes, I was there. All records I am aware of place the displacer at the same relative strength to yuan-ti. And we fought many more today."
"It seems to me like you cannot tolerate those stronger than you."
He laughed. "You call this stick stronger than me? Look at him, he's all bark and no bite!"
"I saw him take down one single-handedly."
"I took down eight. It's not that impressive."
"He took down one with his sword, however, I saw seven fall from his magical barrage."
"That means..." he counted on his fingers, "we're even?"
Sharyas jumped from the brush, plants hanging from her muzzle. Alandil took the plants and began to crush them. "Thank you, my friend. Although I don't recall fox spittle being an ingredient."
Sharyas snorted as she sat down to lick her paws. She watched the goings with interest. Alandil finished mashing the ingredients with a small, rounded pestle. He placed the pulp into a small device of two bowl shaped presses that fit into each other. He closed the device, pouring the liquid that oozed out into a small vial. He smiled. "Finished. There is enough for seven doses here, just in case the first one does not soak up the venom." He poured a small bit into Ascanor's mouth before letting the tiefling rest. "We will have to wait here until he wakes."
Sharyas, having stacked a small pyramid of sticks, played with a small ball of fire the size of a marble. She let it roll off her fingertips into the kindling, setting it ablaze. "Very well." She morphed, curling up beside the fire. Faint snores could be heard from where Ereven sat. Alandil smiled, taking one more look at his patient before he too fell asleep.
Ascanor cracked his eyes open at the rising rays of the sun reflecting off the cracked oak floor. He pulled his hand off his forehead, drawing back beads of sweat. Groaning, he untwisted the drenched mess of sheets and pulled himself out of bed. He shuffled over to the door and pulled it open, his eyes dilating to the drastic darkness beyond. He frowned. For twenty-two years he'd been greeted by the same, unchanging darkness of the manor. Though his father didn't approve and proved so through the entire manor, Ascanor enjoyed the sun, and welcomed it everyday through his windows.
He shuffled down the steps, running his claws along the lacquered oak banister, feeling the grain within the slick surface. He pushed through the heavy oak doors into the kitchen, and sat down at one of the small tables reserved for the clan when no one was being hosted. He sat down, scratching at his morning stubble, as one of the chefs silently dropped a plate of fruit and sausage in front of him. He lost himself in the food, not noticing one of the servants approach him.
"Morning, Iaris." He addressed the golem.
"Morning, sir. Your father is expecting you in his study."
Ascanor sighed. "First thing in the morning?"
"He told me to tell you as soon as you woke."
Of course, that meant as soon as he left his room. No servant dare enter as they remained unaccustomed to brighter light. He was responsible for his own cleaning in return for his reward. "Very well. I see another one of his discoveries has been made."
Ascanor sighed. "Do you have to agree with everything I say?"
"You're dismissed." Ascanor tried to eat the rest of the fruit, but it just kept going down sour. He left the rest in the plate for the cooks to clean up, promptly leaving for the main hallway. He slowly padded down the plush hall, hiding within his shoulders from the view of the scowling paintings of his ancestors. Why it seemed necessary to hang them in an area of main traffic was beyond him. He stopped at the familiar oak carvings of the door to his father's study. He grasped the knocker, the iron tongue of a similarly iron wolf, and rapped on the door.
Ascanor opened the door, his vision clouding at the acrid smoke of the cigar protruding from his father's mouth. His brow furrowed as he continued to examine the documents in front of him, not once did his eyes rise to meet his son's. Ascanor shivered at the air of the room and sat down promptly in the velveteen chair facing his father's desk. His father said nothing, his mouth twitching to release puffs of green smoke into the musky air. Ascanor cleared his throat, bringing his father's gaze up. "Is there something you want, boy?"
"You asked for me, Father."
"Ah, indeed I did." He looked back down at the papers.
"Yes. Have you heard of the Temple of the Two Priests?"
"I have not, sir."
"Well, there is a legend in a book I recently purchased from town on tiefling history that tells of a temple in the Snakewood told to be one of the original temples used to summon Asmodeus by our ancestors."
His eyes widened. "By the first tieflings?"
"Precisely. The tale says the temple was led by a set of twins, called the Two Priests. It says they used a very powerful, and very expensive, relic in their expedition into cohorts with Asmodeus."
Ascanor frowned. "Then why are we talking about such a horrid place?"
"Because, I believe the relic to still be there. It's made of very valuable materials, which would make a great addition to my collection." He set down a chunk of rock onto the desk. "This was for sale at the market this past week."
Ascanor picked it up. He quickly dropped it back on the desk upon viewing the infernal carving. "What's so special about it?"
"It's been rumored to come from the Snakewood, from the Temple of the Two Priests."
"So it's been uncovered?"
"It was never hidden. However, rubble has collapsed the entrance and everyone refuses to go in. Well, except for you."
Of course. "Then I shall recover the relic for you, father." He placed the carving in his pocket and turned to leave.
"And one more thing. Don't you dare fail me again, boy. This will be the last time."
Ascanor bowed, and left without a word.