After their victory, the Xaniqos drow are escorted into the catacombs of the arena. Not only a cleric of the temple of Lolth is waiting for them to administer healing, but also the Xaniqos entourage. Hurriedly they freshen up while listening to their advice.
“You gave a good performance, Alvra, and your resilience is also fine. I miss a bit of finesse here and there, but overall, your showmanship makes up for it. And as long as you’re the victor… By the way, try to evade at least some hits.” Next, Taldinyon turns to his daughter. “Phaedra, you also are doing a good job. Evade is the keyword for your fighting style. Don’t let them hit you!” On the other side of the room, K’yorl tells Jharrath: “I am satisfied with your performance, but I haven’t seen much, apart from the fireball. But it is a wise choice to spare your magic.” And even Quarra is enthusiastic, for the House.
“The next challenge will be to defeat a promising group of House Despana. These students have just finished their training and, just like you, have been gaining experience outside the city. Their leader is a wizard, specialized in the evocation art. Among the others is also a cleric. Watch out for their summoning, and for demonic rituals. Make sure you win, take them down! And a little bit of humiliation on their side would be great.” With these words, the weaponmaster leaves them to prepare themselves.
Lilith gathers her brothers and sister in a circle and casts several spells to strengthen them —both in body and spirit— for the upcoming fight.
Both parties are escorted into the arena. “Take up your positions. The fight will continue until one of the groups or one member surrenders. Or is killed. We look forward to a great performance; show us who is the best!”
Before the other team can do anything, the Xaniqos wizard takes a piece of tentacle from his pouch and casts a holding spell, causing black tentacles to rise up in the middle of the Despana group. The rubbery arms try to grapple, slow them down. As Alvra steps forward, he incidentally activates a trap. Vicious scythes slash through the air where a second earlier the Xaniqos fighter had been standing. Landing safely behind a wall, he turns the incident into a show. The crowd loves him.
The scout, who was observing their adversaries from atop another wall, calls out that the fighter and cleric of the other party are stuck, jumps into the air and lands gracefully on the ground. She grabs her short bow and shoots a dart at the enemy fighter. The male drow instantly falls smack down on his face, overcome by the knock-down poison. There’s a loud “Wooooow” of appreciation for Phaedra from the tribunes.
Jharrath summons three medium sizes earth elementals, that promptly fall into a trap. Fortunately, they succeed in climbing out. With javelin and his two-handed sword, Alvra attacks in melee, aided by the elementals.
The enemy wizard uses a dimensional door to escape the tentacles and appears behind a woodblock. Ominous darkfire shoots from Lilith’s hands, counterattacked by an enemy ice storm – the Xaniqos wizard and cleric are unaffected though. The battle rages on until another streak of darkfire hits the Despana leader. Severely hurt, he asks his group to surrender. A loud booing erupts from the spectators, and in the noble lounge, Sheihirae is furious. Unladylike, the Despana Matron Mother snorts her contempt, a crack showing in her stern composure. She signals to Thimeta to end the match. Down at the field, the Xaniqos cleric again bows to her mother. Lady Thandysha smirks in triumph.
When Phaedra, Jharrath, Alvra and Lilith enter the noble lounge, they are greeted with enthusiasm. K’yorl now shows outright respect for Jharrath and Quarra nods towards her sister. She has not much to say. The praise of the Matron Mother of House Despana is somewhat restrained. “Congratulations on your second victory. It is not our day. You are deserving of a better match.” Sheihirae consults with Thimeta, while the siblings have a bite to eat and take a short rest.
All seats in the arena are occupied by the time the third and last round starts. Again Lilith buffs her companions with strong spells. To top it off, she casts an armor of darkness on her fighter brother and peps up her own strength.
Not much has been changed in the setup of the fighting grounds, but the Xaniqos now stand on the other side. Suddenly a loud roar shatters the expectant silence and with a lot of noise, the gates on the opposite side are lifted clear off their hinges. An enormous beast steps forward, big horns curling from its head. It seems like House Despana has summoned a demon to fight for them!
Again the ghour roars. Apparently, it is anticipating the exercise. Being immune to cold, fire, poison and lightning, the demon will be hard to fight, and the Xaniqos have a real challenge to deal with.
Jharrath calls forth the largest elemental yet summoned. It lumbers towards the ghour and hits, hard. The first punch seems to hurt the demon, but it easily shakes off the second attack. Phaedra’s charge attack with her spiked chain also is not very effective, but she keeps it up, as she doesn’t have anything else to hurt it with. A javelin streaks towards the demon, but the creature brushes it aside. Alvra had already anticipated this, but he needed to be sure of the effect –or lack of– of his attack.
Stamping its hoofs, the ghour breaks the cleric’s concentration, and her flame strike sizzles out. When the beast charges with its head down, attacking with both horns and two aggressive legs, Lilith’s searing lights spell also fails.
The wizard summons another large earth elemental. Both creatures throw themselves into the fight and engage the demon. Lilith calls forth a blade barrier around one of the elementals, to enhance the havoc it wreaks upon the demon. She then casts a spell on Alvra’s weapon: the sword becomes extra shiny!
Her attempt at attacking with a slashing darkness spell, fails though. The wizard uses his wand of magic missiles, while Alvra and Phaedra keep attacking, making sure they stay out of reach. Only their best hits do any damage, while the ghour has no problem wounding the drow.
Frustrated, the cleric grits her teeth and concentrates with all her might. Focusing divine power like a ray of the sun, Lilith projects a blast of pure light from her open palm. And her attack is extremely effective, because, with a loud roar of defeat, the demon disappears back to its plane. Again the Xaniqos are victorious!
The crowd goes absolutely berserk, and under a massive applause, the drow are escorted from the arena.
“It is time.” Lilith takes her sister and brothers across the street. It has become quite busy with slaves, drow, and nobles. From afar they hear the cheering and screaming of the crowd.
At the entrance, they are stopped by a bugbear.
“Guests or players?”
“We come to participate in the fights.”
“Please follow me.”
The bugbear leads them towards a side entrance, where more warriors are waiting.
“You can sign up here.”
Behind the desk is a drow male, who is very interested in the Xaniqos.
“How are the opponents chosen?” Phaedra asks him.
“The rules are simple: you sign up as a team and fight three bouts. Everything has to happen inside the arena. No matter what happens, do not leave it. And if you survive, you have won.” He adds: “You are among the prime of the day.”
“Can we watch the other fights?”
The drow directs them towards a passageway.
“Lady Thandysha has one of the best spots. But be back in two hours!”
The huge arena is filled to the brim with almost a thousand spectators. Most are drow. The siblings are escorted to the noble area, where their mother is surrounded by a large entourage. A very large woman, broad and strong, is observing them. She is introduced as Thimeta Despana, the combat instructor of House Despana. Her armor is as black as night, marking her as a blackguard as well as a fighter.
The Matron Mother of House Despana, lady Sheihirae, is older than lady Thandysha. “Ah, so these are the chosen ones, Thandysha. You show courage to put four family members out in the arena. I have several enthusiastic warriors, waiting to take up arms against them. May the best team win.”
“Good luck, for the House!” Lady Thandysha nods encouragingly.
The arena is prepared for the tournament. It is a varied terrain, with hills and walls.
“Mistress Thimeta, does the outlay change with every round?”
“Indeed, Alvra, each fight will be a new challenge, in an ever-changing arena.”
“Let the tournament begin!”
Upon lady Sheihirae’s words, an expectant hush settles over the arena. The first gate opens and four warriors of House Despana enter. The crowd cheers. On the opposite side, one of the Fey folk and two svirfneblins step onto the sand. Where the drow tread slowly and carefully, the deep gnomes rush forward – straight into a trap. It soon becomes a massacre.
The Xaniqos are called to their quarters. Underneath his cloak, Alvra wears a new black breastplate, studded with sharp points. Soon a lower drow escorts them to the middle of the arena. The fighting area has been hastily raked to absorb the blood of the unfortunate victims who came before them. “Stop right here.” On the other side, a huge quaggoth enters, carrying a great ax. Five more follow.
Both Matron Mothers rise, and lady Thandysha announces her children. “Today, House Xaniqos will show its strength. Our brave drow will fight against these savage beasts.”
With a loud roar, the quaggoth leader charges at full speed. Suddenly the earth beneath his feet disappears, but he jumps aside. As Phaedra searches for traps, the wizard moves sideways and starts casting, a piece of bat guano in his hand. A bright fireball speeds towards the quaggoths and the stench of burned hair and flesh spread throughout the arena. The crowd stamp their feet to show their appreciation.
Then the fight starts in earnest. Alvra moves to get a clear line of sight and throws one of his javelins. Phaedra at first shoots bolts, but soon engages in a melee fight, her spiked chain tearing through the tough hide of their enemies. Three small earth elementals join in and engage the raging quaggoths, while magic missiles find their target. After several attacks, the Xaniqos cleric takes out the leader with her flail, the sparks of her added fire slowly winking out. Alvra’s sword whistles through flesh and bone.
Within minutes, all quaggoths are dead. Lilith bows to her Matron Mother. Two more rounds to go.
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Back home, Jharrath gorges himself until bursting and then eats some more. A scolding hot bath makes him feel almost as good as new. Almost… Somehow he feels changed.
The next morning finds House Xaniqos in turmoil. All siblings are called towards a meeting in the throne room.
“Welcome back!” Lady Thandysha almost purrs. “I have found a worthy task for you, to show the strength of our House and to deal a blow to our enemies. Tomorrow morning you will go to the Arena in the Ghetto of the Savages, and sign up for the fights. It should be an interesting program. An important noble of House Despana wants to prove himself, and –if you all provoke him enough with your display of strength– he will appear in the Arena in person. Destroy him. House Despana may be able to change the rules, but they have to let you go once you’re victorious.”
As an afterthought, she adds: “And siblings? Do NOT fail me! Lolth is watching and testing you. Do well, and your status could improve within our House. I will see you tomorrow at the arena.”
Taldinyon takes Alvra aside. “I’m watching you closely. If you truly are the future of this House, you could be a weapon master yourself.”
Meanwhile, Jharrath has a likewise conversation with the house wizard. “I’m looking forward to your tricks tomorrow, and I do hope you will show more than the average magician.” The rivals look each other in the eye. “Oh, you can be assured of that, K’yorl.”
As they are about to leave, Quarra saunters towards her younger sister and wishes her good luck, in the open! Surprised, Lilith nods her head in appreciation. “Thank you, sister!” The whole house seems uncharacteristically united in their support of the adventurers.
With the good wishes and warnings still fresh on their minds, the next morning the four drow walk towards the Ghetto of the Savages. The rest of their House will arrive later. Well armed drow patrol the district. There are troglodytes and trolls —some of which approach them for work— and many goblins.
In front of the Arena is a large inn, with loud music pouring from the entrance. A duergar is holding a mixed crowd enthralled with this story. “In the Old Battle Axe”, a sign over his head says. A battered axe emphasizes the inn’s name. The place is run by a female bugbear and her two sons.
When the Xaniqos enter, the proprietor bids them welcome and asks what they’d like to drink.
“Water please,” Phaedra says. Lilith echoes her sister’s order.
The bugbear almost chokes. “Water?!” she mutters, “I have never heard such a peculiar request. How about you, gentlemen. Can I get you something stronger? We have Elf Blood; we serve a tasty Chieftain’s brew, and a nice strong Battle Axe Black!” She orders her sons to clear a table. Within seconds the bugbears start tossing dwarfs, goblins, and even a bugbear to the side. When the Xaniqos take their seats, the innkeeper returns with the drinks.
Jharrath takes a sip of his drink. The Elf Blood is bright red and even looks like blood. And though it appears to be wine, there’s a hint of iron to it.
The bugbears both stare at Alvra. “A Battle Axe Black! You are strong, we are impressed! The drow fighter raises the mug warm, bubbling beer to his mouth and, ignoring the foul smell, takes a firm sip. The super strong ‘beer’ carves a trail of fierceness down his throat, and his heart is pounding in his ears. Alvra spits out the remaining liquid, sputtering and gasping for air. “Humph, we thought you were stronger.” Disappointed, the two bugbears turn away. The drow quickly empties the mug over his shoulder and slams it on the table. Perhaps drinking wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Meanwhile, the duergar continues his Arena stories, and the drow listen, quietly observing the customers. It is almost time.
Carrying their dead brother’s body and his belongings, the Xaniqos return home to Erelhei-Cinlu. The streets are swarming with Tormtor and Despana fighters, who guard the grand drow city, but none dare to stop the siblings. When they arrive at the mansion, Lilith orders the servants to take the wizard into the mausoleum and clean him up. She hopes the good news about the completed mission will balance Jharrath’s death: House Xaniqos is allowed to pick a portal in Looblishar!
They get rid of their battle-stained gear, freshen up and go downstairs to join their family for dinner. Lady Thandysha is present, as are Solafein, captain of the guard, and the house wizard K’yorl.
“I hope your brother has a good reason for not joining us?”
“He has indeed, Mother, he died,” Lilith replies.
Lady Thandysha nods. “I know, rumor is that the body of a noble has been carried into our estate”.
“And he smelled fishy!” Quarra snorts.
“And still we managed to free Blessed Seahaven of the vampire, so the trade commences once again!” Lilith’s words smoothly wipe the smug expression off her eldest sister’s face.
“Make sure the kua-toas take back the control over their village. The trade will be profitable enough to pay for Jharrath”s resurrection. I will lead the ritual myself in the temple of Erelhei-Cinlu, three days from now,” the Matron Mother says. “Until then you are free to do as you please.”
The siblings visit Nyttoris at the Arms & Armor and sell their loot. Lilith returns to her quarters, and finds a vestment of ebonsilk waiting for her. The beautiful magical garment is adorned with a large spider, and when the time of the resurrection has come, she wears it proudly.
When Phaedra and Lilith arrive at the temple, the Matron Mother is already there -as always dressed in finery- while Quarra is in full battle gear. Two more priestesses join, but no males are allowed inside. Alvra has to wait outside, together with Taldinyon and the guards.
The wizard’s body is gently placed upon the altar. Lady Thandysha sprinkles diamond dust as she circles the altar, working herself into a trance. She sends her prayers to Lolth and casts the resurrection spell.
A connection with the divine world opens up and Jharrath feels the telepathic link. He hears the voice of the Matron Mother, asking – no, demanding in a strong voice that he is to return to the world of the living. The wizard complies wholeheartedly. With hardly any resistance Jharrath is allowed to leave the plane of the dead and return to his body.
“Well, that was invigorating!” Jharrath is about to swing his legs over the side of the altar when he hears a raspy dark voice and is forcefully pushed back. A tentacled blob of melted wax appears, with eyes moving across the head. The filthy, writhing, oozing mass emits a foul stench. House Xaniqos is honored by a visit of a Yochlol, a handmaiden of Lolth!
The wizard stares in awe, beads of sweat on his brow from the exertion of the resurrection.
In a melodious voice, the handmaiden tells them that Lolth is proud of House Xaniqos, though they have never been really tested yet.
“Lolth grants your wish to bring this male back to life, but he had better be useful. In ten days, the Spider Queen expects a sacrifice, worthy of her respect. Do not displease her!”
“This altar will be dressed in the blood of our enemies,” Jharrath humbly replies.
Then the form is gone.
Lady Thandysha is ecstatic. “Today will be remembered as the glorious day that House Xaniqos was contacted by Lolth. This is fantastic: our House is rising, the Spider Queen is pleased with us!”
“Thank you, Matron Mother, for bringing me back. I will make you proud, I will make sure House Xaniqos is on the rise.”
“I never expected differently, my son.” Lady Thandysha traces his chin with her sharp nails, and a single drop of blood wells up. Jharrath swallows, and -after donning a spare robe from the temple- follows the six female drow.
Alvra, who has been guarding the temple doors, steps aside when Lady Thandysha appears in the door opening. She is practically beaming, and even Quarra seems happier than usual. They are followed closely by Lilith, Phaedra, and the two clerics. Somewhat later the wizard steps outside.
“Welcome back, brother. It seems you belong to the land of the living once again.” Jharrath’s grin says enough.
“Children, meet me tomorrow. I have an idea. From this day on, we will rise. We will not be the eighth house anymore.”
And with these words, the Matron Mother leads the way home.
Grabbing their supplies, the Xaniqos rush out through the nautical curtain decorations at the front of the temple and run towards the raft. As it is still untouched, they soon are paddling back towards the shore.
You will never leave this place alive!
Back at the island, the shape of a kua-toa raises her arms, and the water around the raft starts to swirl. The Whip is able to control the water!
The raft rolls on the undulating waves and the drow hang on for dear life. Lilith tries to take out the Whip, but loses her concentration when the raft bucks violently. Her spell is lost. Her brother summons a large earth elemental, which attacks the kua-toa and beats her to death in a mighty blow. To their chagrin, the maelstrom continues. And that is not the only threat. On all sides, fins break the surface, eager for four drow snacks.
Alvra throws a javelin at the huge shark and hits, but the blood only makes it wilder. It dives under and rocks the vessel. Their balancing skills save them from falling – for now. The maelstrom is getting a better grip on the raft and they move in ever accelerating circles. All of a sudden, Phaedra is gone in a puff of smoke. Jharrath and Lilith peddle with all their might, moving slowly but steadily towards the shore, while the fighter searches the water for threats.
When the dire shark comes up, Alvra again wounds it with a javelin. All sharks – big and small – go into a frenzy and both brothers are thrown into the water. The fighter quickly climbs back up. A giant mouth appears next to Jharrath. It closes with an audible snap, missing the wizard by inches. He manages to get a hold on the raft and with the help of Alvra, scrambles back aboard. Another javelin finds its bloody mark, and the fish trashes wildly, Lilith tries to steady the raft, but loses her balance and topples over. The Xaniqos cleric starts to sink in the churning waters; her armor is too heavy to stay afloat.
Meanwhile, Phaedra has reached the shore in her gaseous form. She invokes an immediate action and turns into a flash of bright light. The two waiting Monitors are affected: one is blinded and the other dazzled. The scout crouches down, invisible again, and takes out her grappling hook and a rope. She watches the scene that unfolds on the lake. Quickly she attaches the hook to the rope and secures it to the scaffolding, waiting for the right moment to come to her siblings’ rescue.
The dire beast, searching for an easier prey now the wizard is out of reach, turns towards Lilith. In a powerful movement of his tail fin, he swims closer, grapples the cleric and swallows her whole. Lilith is shark meat!
In successive throws, Alvra punctures the huge fish again and again with his throwing weapon, trying to save his mistress. The maelstrom, moving the raft in smaller circles, heaves and bucks, and both drow keel over into the water. With a bite and a swallow, the wizard also disappears down the shark’s maul, while the fighter once again climbs onto the raft.
Phaedra throws the grappling hook onto the float. Hereby she gives away her location to the two monitors and is attacked. While fighting off both kua-toas, she starts hauling the raft back to the safe shore.
Inside the shark, the situation of the Xaniqos is getting worse. The mighty muscles of the fish pummel them raw and stomach fluids try to eat away at their skin. Jharrath especially is affected by the acid. The cleric’s body suddenly erupts with eight tendrils – she has cast Yochlol’s blessing – and she attacks the dire beast from within, focusing on one spot. The wizard uses both his wands and a Kellgore’s firebolt and sears the fish innards with fire. Finally, overcome by the internal fight, Jharrath goes down.
By now the waters have turned so wild that even a trained fighter like Alvra cannot keep his balance. The dire shark, recognizing his tormentor, immediately bites and tries to grapple the drow, but Alvra is a seasoned warrior. He fights back and escapes, refusing to serve as dinner for the beast. The drow attacks with his short sword, and even his armor is biting the fish.
The scout drops the rope and quickly steps out of the range of the two monitors. She takes out her crossbow and fires at the dire shark in her skirmishing combat style. The fish, battled from without and within, finally subsides and dies, floating belly up at the surface of the lake. Phaedra has killed it!
Immediately Alvra starts sawing in the stomach area, while Lilith does the same from within. She takes a moment to drink a strong healing potion and resumes the grizzly task of freeing herself and her wizard brother. When the fighter finally cuts through the layers of fat, he helps the cleric climb out of the shark belly, and together they free the lifeless form of Jharrath.
At the beach, the monitors lose their faith. Their opponent keeps dis- and appearing and won’t stand still. Their Whip, their once mighty cleric, is dead. Their giant pet shark is now fish meat. All they have been fighting for is gone. Disillusioned, they dive into the water and are gone. Phaedra throws a rope towards Alvra and Lilith and helps them get back to shore. Dripping wet, they walk back to Erelhei-Cinlu, carrying their dead brother home.