After weeks of traveling, the walls of Erelhei-Cinlu, skilfully lighted with the purple glow of fungi, are a welcome sight. Eager to get home and leave the hardships of their travels behind, they stride towards the bridge.
The streets are filled with Tormtor drow. At the gate, they are welcomed -or more accurate- halted by a cleric of House Despana. Marcella Despana seems shocked to see the Xaniqos alive and well, tries to hide her astonishment behind a sneering smile and says:
Look who we have here. I’m amazed you dare to show your face after all the other parties have been butchered!
What are you implying, Marcella? How dare you blame us for the incompetence of your own soldiers. Move!
Lilith furiously retorts. She pushes her way forward, and grudgingly the Despana priestess steps aside.
There are exceedingly many patrols in the city and as they work their way towards the Xaniqos estate, again they are halted. This time it is a captain of their own house, though unfamiliar.
is his reaction when they tell him they are the lost searching party of House Xaniqos. Phaedra whacks the soldier over the head because of this impertinence.
What is your name, male?
Well, Ninfór, I am Lilith, high priestess of House Xaniqos, and I am ordering you to get out of the way!
If looks could kill, the drow would have turned to ashes. The captain reassesses the situation, and now notices the battle scars and the travel dust. His tone of voice changes into one of respect.
May we accompany you, Mistress Lilith?
Yes, but keep your distance.
The Xaniqos cleric’s patience is wearing very thin. They walk in silence for a while, when the captain respectfully coughs.
Pardon me, but you are walking the wrong way, Mistress. The noble estates have all been abandoned because of what has happened. Every house is on edge. The Matron Mother decided to move back to our District.
The siblings continue into the district under Xaniqos command: the District of the Outcasts. They walk past groups of foreigners and beggars and pass various inns. Finally, they arrive at a grand and beautiful estate of two stories high. The drow who are guarding the entrance to the courtyard, are also strangers. A lot has changed during the month they were gone. Lots of new blood; House Xaniqos must be doing well.
In the courtyard, the familiar statue of Lolth is going through its never-ending cycle of transition from drow to spider and back. One of the guards leads them up a big staircase and asks them to wait. A couple of minutes later their House wizard descends, a glimpse of a smile on his face. He must be really pleased to see them!
K’yorl, it is good to finally see a familiar face!
And I am glad to see you all in good health, mistress Lilith. It has been a while. Lady Thandysha will be back later tonight. Do you want to freshen up in the meantime, eat and rest?
When Lilith inquires after the new recruits, the wizard explains that House Xaniqos has expanded, taking over several smaller houses that owed them allegiance, bolstering their ranks.
Servants escort the siblings to separate bathhouses. Somewhat later they reappear, dressed in soft house robes. Laergath is nowhere to be seen. In the kitchen, all thoughts of travel rations disappear with a second serving. After dinner, the cleric asks a servant to take care of her armor and then proceeds to the chapel, where she prays to Lolth. Upstairs, Jharrath inspects his room, which is next to the room of Alvra. All of their equipment and furniture seems to be intact.
At the end of the day, the long-awaited call comes. The four adventurers are expected in the reception room. The Matron Mother is sitting on a small platform at the head of the table, two minotaurs as her bodyguard. Lilith takes a seat next to her mother, flanked by Phaedra.
It is good to be back, Mother.
And it is good to see you again, I hope you have good news!
the lady Thandysha replies in private. Then a new voice joins their conversation.
Ah Lilith, there you are. Welcome back. I am very curious to hear why you have been gone so long!
Quarra -the only one in battle armor and flail in hand- takes the opposite seat. K’yorl, Alvra and Jharrath also join them.
The authoritarian voice of Lady Thandysha booms through the throne room.
Now tell us all about what happened to you these last few weeks.
Lilith starts with the bad news: they haven’t been able to retrieve the rod Dark Fate. Quarra snorts, but Lilith ignores her and continues with her story. The betrayal of Amalika, the discovery of the killers of House Tormtor and their punishment, the Hidden Dell, and the blaspheming drow in Sith Morcane. The Matron Mother is not happy to hear that the rod has not been found.
House Despana is acting very arrogant towards House Xaniqos. After finding the bodies of the large search party of house Tormtor, a few claim that House Xaniqos has been involved in the murder.
Many council members distrust each other, worrying the other house might have acquired the rod for personal gain. There have not been direct accusations yet, but several imply House Xaniqos is to blame. We have to think well about our next step.
Thank you, Lilith. Notwithstanding your failure, you managed to return. A feat that the other houses did not accomplish. And though you did not find the rod, you again managed to deliver a blow to House Shi’quos.
The cleric nods at Phaedra, Alvra and Jharrath.
Well, I could have had worse travel companions.
Quarra, realizing that things have taken a positive turn for her sister and her party yet again, seethes with anger. With clenched teeth she says:
I am glad you made it back to further enhance the glory of House Xaniqos.
With a straight face, Lilith asks Quarra if she can think of more ideas that can help their House, but the elder sister has to ponder on that.
Lady Thandysha ends the dinner gathering:
Take a reverie and return to me in a couple of days. Make sure you wear your armor. I’ll send for you once I have taken your news into consideration. I will call for a council meeting. You may go out in the city, but don’t go out alone. Be careful. The rod was not where it was supposed to be. Somebody else took it, or it was never there!