Battle Axe Black

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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.

Troglodyte

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.

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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.

Resurrected!

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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!

Yochlol

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.

Shark Attack!

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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!

171116maelstrom

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!

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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!

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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.

The Temple of Blessed Seahaven

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With full backpacks and a new supply of healing potions and wooden stakes, the siblings set out to Blessed Seahaven. After a couple of hours, they arrive at the large lake. Two kua-toas guard the stone arch that leads to the lake. Soon the peace and quiet will be over, so Lilith buffs Alvra with a strength spell, while she casts Iron silence on her own armor.

Phaedra races towards the kua-toas and attacks one of them with her spiked chain. The guard falls down and cries out in pain, heavily wounded. Before the other can react, Alvra’s javelin pierces his torso. A volley of magic missiles and an agile scout end the short fight.

171115lake

The drow find a raft and silently peddle towards the temple. Several fins, belonging to sharks, break the surface –one very big, the others smaller– but nothing happens, and soon they arrive at the temple shore. They secure the raft and follow Phaedra to the secret door. A big-shouldered kua-toa patrols the premises -probably a monitor- while another watches the water. Quickly the cleric casts a spell to help them avoid the effect of possible harmful spells.

The scout kills one of the monitors, but the act is witnessed by the kua-toas in a spawning pool on the other side of the lake. A fireball soon ends the commotion, but the flames cannot be unnoticed for long. They have to get inside! Phaedra is able to open the secret door by operating a mechanism, and quickly the four drow enter the temple. Just in time, for on the other side of the door, the second guard tries to follow them.

Vuon’s bedroom is luxuriously decorated with silk tapestries and wooden furniture. A second room reveals a library. The tubes with carts are equipped with the kua-toan language system: chains made of shells that convey a sound –a message– when moved through water. Quickly they pass a smelly privy and enter the main room. A monitor, two whips and a vampire kua-toan High Priestess are waiting for them.

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The latter holds forth her holy symbol and yells “Punish the infidels!”. The dark goddess Blibdoolpoolp decides to aid her priestess, for the whip’s strength is astonishing. After a vicious fight, where Phaedra gets pushed into a basin that leads to a lake and has to fend off a fiendish shark, where earth elementals pound and Alvra’s energy is drained, where searing lights and magic missiles find their target, the Xaniqos finally win. Lilith drives a wooden stake through the heart of the high priestess and ends her unnatural life. Their end of the bargain has been held: Vuon former second-in-command, Sloomike Goldskill, is no more.

Lilith calls her sister and brothers into a healing circle, restores the energy level of Alvra and gives him and Phaedra extra attention to heal their wounds. The siblings then gather the possessions of the dead: several necklaces, bracers, a shell vest, a couple of frost pincer staffs, some healing potions, magical amulets and rings.

Jharrath searches the sanitary room and detects a hidden space. There’s magic at work here! He calls in the help of his sister and together they try to dispel the magical illusion, but none of it works. In the end, the wizard calls forth two earth elementals and orders them to see what is behind the wall. When they return, they convey an image of a large coffin, a couple of scrolls and a chest.

 

Mutual Acquaintances

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In the next few days, the drow keep themselves occupied. Alvra spends his time training with bugbears. He would have liked to train with the lizards as well, but they are still back at the noble estate.

Interested in learning more about the area of Szith morcane, the cleric sets out to find a cartographer at the Palace of Scribes. Accompanied by the captain and two guards, she arrives unhindered in the district of House Shi’quos. The scholars give her entrance to the tower where the scribes keep the cards. An old scroll shows her the city of Maerimydra, which was built in the shape of a spider before it was demolished by the demon hordes. Szith morcane is only a small outpost of the prominent city.

Their wizard brother is in his lab in the district, while Phaedra mingles -anonymously- with the people. Though the quarter has been renovated, there are still enough outcasts and beggars around. One of them approaches the scout and tells her a mutual acquaintance wants to see her in the Hideaway, a place for runaways.

Do you know his name?

When the guy shakes his head, she asks him to describe the acquaintance.

He looks fishy, Mistress.

Intrigued, Phaedra follows the beggar. At the inn, the innkeeper Melash d’Falla points at the stairs.

Take a left at the top.

She taps on the door and a watery voice says “Who is it?” When the drow opens the door, she sees a familiar face. It is Vuon, the Sharran priest from Blessed Seahaven! Submerged in his bathtub, the kua-toa thanks Phaedra for coming.

 I need your help.

Oh, and why would we help you?

Well, a mutual acquaintance is going to be very happy.

kua-toa

There seem to be an awful lot of ‘mutual acquaintances’ today, Phaedra mutters.

The Spymaster will be grateful, Mistress, we serve the same master.

And what’s in it for us?

We will grant you access to some of the portals.

Phaedra nods at the kua-toa to continue.

Three weeks ago, an ogre-vampire appeared at our temple. He wormed his way in by telling secrets and many lies! He took my second-in-command, turned him, and has overthrown us. I need you to clear out the temple, Mistress Phaedra. Will you help us?

Before I can do that, I will have to discuss it with our Matron Mother. Enjoy your bath, Vuon, I will be back with an answer.

The kua-toa will stay at the Hideaway until she returns.

Phaedra goes back to the estate and asks for an audience with the Matron Mother. As it will take a while, the siblings pay a visit to Nyttoris Arms & Armor in the meantime, where Nyttoris is very glad to see them.

shop

The Xaniqos pile their loot on the counter. While they are waiting for Nyttoris to assess the items, a beautiful drow woman serves them snacks and drinks.

Well, well, well. You have been busy! Will I get into trouble with this stuff?

Nah, the former owners have passed away,

Phaedra answers with a wink.

As always Nyttoris is a graceful host and his daughter a good distraction in the negotiations. Eventually the Xaniqos siblings leave the store without their loot but with plenty of gold!

Back at the house, Phaedra is granted an audience with the Matron Mother. She tells Lady Thandysha that she is approached by a Sharran high priest of Looblishar.

He told me that his temple has been taken over by the Ogre vampire, and wants us to clear it out. In return he will give us access to some portals. If it’s the night portal, it could be helpful in our mission to find the Dark Fate rod. I could go back and ask him more information?

Access to an important portal could be interesting indeed.

Phaedra returns to Vuon, introducing Jharrath.

As you probably guessed, House Xaniqos is interested in your proposition. We want to hear more about the portals; which ones are we talking about?

Only the Spymaster can tell you, Master Wizard. You may choose only one, but you can pick a suitable one.

Can we talk to the Spymaster ourselves?

He is in Looblishar, it will take two weeks to contact him. But the Spymaster needs you, and not many can say that.

When Phaedra asks about the temple security, the former high priest draws a map with two secret passages to his old room.

What is the name of your former second-in-command?

Sloomike Goldskill, but I suspect him to be cursed now too. There are ten to twelve armed Kua-toas – three of them are whips – plus a couple of monks and fighters in the temple. By the way, Mistress, all connections between House Xaniqos and Blessed Seahaven have stopped and the trade deal has ended, due to the miscommunication with a female of Erelhei-Cinlu. A buffed one, and not too diplomatic.

Back home Phaedra talks to the Matron Mother again.

We will only gain access to one portal, but it will be beneficial. Furthermore, Vuon mentioned that our trade deal has been broken?

I know, Quarra told me; I’m afraid Vuon was not impressed about her diplomatic skills.

The Lady Thandysha likes Phaedra’s suggestion that they might be able to bring the trade back by helping the kua-toas and sends them on their way to deal with the problem.