Hide Away

0

While Amalika heads back to the Council of the Eight Ruling Houses, Quarra hurries towards the Throne Room, Alvra and her sister close on her heels. She is greeted by chaos: the room is covered in sticky material and her siblings and an unknown, immobile male drow are glued to the ground. Cursing, Quarra dispels the magic web and – after listening to Phaedra’s report – sends the assassin off to the torture rack.

Quarra seems a bit nervous. Her door has also been tampered with, causing a fire spell to ignite. The situation is getting out of hand.

Once freed, Jharrath and the Scout start searching the mansion for the missing Treasury guard. They find him, cuffed, gagged and poisoned. The treasurer awakens – dizzy and nauseated – and tells them he left his post for food. When he came back, the other guard was missing and he was attacked from behind. The Scout senses there is more to his story and takes him to the interrogation room too.

Left your post for food? Your duty was to the Treasury, you miserable worm. You can take your turn when the other prisoner has spilled his guts.

Lilith sends the guard into the room, where Quarra and a bugbear overseer are interrogating the assassin. After extensive torture, the assassin finally breaks and mumbles ‘Demon’s Den’. Soon after he dies. The Treasury guard – next in line – soon admits to accepting a bribe and looking the other way. That seems to be all he knows though.

Phaedra once again sets out into the mansion, in search of the other missing Treasury guard. When she enters the Armory, she notices fresh blood on a large chest. She opens it and discovers the body of a drow warrior; she has found the missing guard, who has been stabbed to death, greenish poison oozing from a deep wound. The Scout pulls the body from the chest and orders a passing guard to secure the room and get slaves to clean up. She then checks the family kitchen. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, but she gives the order to leave everything as it is anyway.

In the meantime Alvra patrols the house, while the Wizard mingles with the guards to find out all they know about the Demon’s Den. Though the establishment is well known in Erelhei-Cinlu, it is not much spoken of. The Demon’s Den is a favorite hangout for rogues, situated in the Ghetto of Outcasts. It is led by Zaetha, a female drow who fell out of favor with Lolth after the Priest Wars. Zaetha is neutral and pragmatic, even for a drow.

The two guards Lilith sent out earlier, return to report to the Cleric. Although they haven’t found the missing cook, they did discover that Jevan has taken refuge at the Hide Away. Lilith sends slaves to find her sister and brothers with the orders to have them come to her room. When they arrive, she quickly informs them about the news on the cook and inquires after their knowledge of the Hide Away. Alvra and Jharrath know that the address changes every three months. Anyone can hide there; the only thing needed is money, much money. The fake inn has secret walls and double rooms and is run entirely by males. Females are not welcome there. The Hide Away is owned by Melash d’Valla, a half drow slumlord. After a short consideration, the Cleric sends the brothers into the Ghetto of Outcasts to bring back the cook, preferably in one piece. She withdraws thousand gold pieces from the Treasury in case they need to bribe their way to Jevan and orders them to hurry. They need to have more information on the Mask of the Matriarch before the Matron Mother returns.

The brothers go quickly, hiding the Xaniqos house symbol beneath their piwafwis, and arrive somewhat later at a nondescript house. Few people are sitting in the common room of the small tavern. Melash d’Valla walks up to them, almost dressed like a drow noble. He has quite an air for a half drow. Jharrath quickly comes to the point and offers Melash money in return for information on a fugitive drow who is known to be hiding at the Hide Away. The inn keeper looks puzzled and pretends not to know anything about it.

When the wizard’s diplomacy skills fail, he slams a bag of gold on the counter. The owner acts outraged at the allegations about hiding a runaway slave , but becomes more lenient when Jharrats threatens to expose his ‘secret’ business. The Xaniqos males are quickly led into another room, where they agree on the sum of eight hundred gold pieces for handing over escaped drow: four hundred in advance, the other half after they catch the run-away.

They follow Melash down into the cellar and find Jevan behind a hidden door. The cook – alerted by their voices – tries to make an escape. Jharrath quickly summons an earth elemental, which rushes Jevan against the wall. Alvra blocks the exit. Melash throws the wizard a rope, but before the cook can be bound, he tries to take a flask from his pocket. Alarmed, Jharrath calls out to the elemental and the creature immediately attacks. Jevan slowly collapses, the flask spilling a yellow, awful smelling liquid. The Wizard recognizes it as the skin of an Umberhulk, an uncommon poison.

Well, that brings the gold down to four hundred. This is a useless corpse. We will take the body with us.

Alvra accepts a sheet of canvas from the tavern keeper and wraps the former cook in it. They ascend the stairs again towards the common room, where the atmosphere has turned grim. The fighter carries the corpse back towards the Xaniqos mansion.

Poisoned!

0

It is morning in the Underdark. The four Xaniqos siblings meet up with their eldest sister. Quarra is in a rather good mood and has ordered breakfast for them all. In the middle of the conversation about the Council, Quarra swallows her food, clears her throat and sneers to Lilith

You realize that skin kite scar on  your face is permanent, don’t you, sister? I can imagine you are upset…

Nostrils flaring, the Cleric replies

Upset? I consider it an honor to wear this battle scar, which I received during a fight for the benefit of the House of Xaniqos. And for the Spider Queen herself!

The others keep their eyes on the food and eat. It wouldn’t be wise to get caught in the middle. Suddenly a queasiness washes over them, nausea surging in and out. Then their eyesight blurs and one by one they pass out, except for Alvra and Quarra, who are less troubled by what’s ailing them. The High Priestess gets up, indignation and temper ravaging her face.

What the hell is happening here? The foo… We have been poisoned! Where’s the cook?

But the drow cook seems to have sneaked out. Quarra stalks the room and strikes down the serving slave, beating him to death in pure rage. Suddenly a loud shrieking erupts from the direction of the women’s rooms. The sound is ear piercing. The Fighter lifts his head, struggling against the effects of the drugs, and notices how his brother and youngest sister are gaining consciousness again. Lilith is still totally knocked-out. Quarra sinks into a trance and starts praying to their deity Lolth. Slowly a greenish glow appears, which envelops her hands. With the aid of the Spider Queen, she heals her sisters from the poison. Jharrath has to manage on his own, the weak male is unworthy of her blessing.

Lilith comes to her senses, no longer sick, and also Phaedra feels alert again. When she hears the deafening wailing, she shouts that there might be an intruder! After thanking Quarra, the Scout runs up to her room, accompanied by Alvra, while Lilith races towards the kitchen to take charge downstairs.

In the mess hall, Lilith is greeted by sounds of moaning and retching. Seems almost everyone in the Xaniqos household has been poisoned. After interrogating the most lucid ones, she discovers that the missing cook has fled the mansion. She immediately sends two guards after him.

Find him and bring him back. Alive. I need to have a talk with that bastard.

The guards hurry off and quickly the Cleric organizes a group of twenty more or less able warriors to patrol and guard the mansion in case of an attack.

When Phaedra and Alvra arrive at the women’s floor, the shrieking stops. The Scouts’ room is a mess, everything has been searched. The door to Lilith’s room is also open and offers the same view. Could it be possible they have been searching for… she gasps. The mask!

Go to the Treasurey, Alvra, and see that it is safe. Run, male, RUN!

She then turns to check her sister’s room, which has been devastated. Darts are scattered on the floor, and in the middle lies a small green snake, chopped in half. Lilith must have kept a pet snake, she won’t be pleased when she finds out, Phaedra thinks. A trail of blood  leads from the room into the hallway. Seems both traps worked properly, but they didn’t stop the intruder from entering.

The Scout follows the blood trail towards the throne room, its doors wide open. She quickly looks inside and assesses the situation. Two Minotaurs are stalking around. Seems they saw something, or someone, enter but can’t find the intruder. He or she has vanished into the shadows. Phaedra orders the creatures to guard the door – the only way out – and listens carefully until she hears shuffling to the right side of the room. It is dark. There are many places to hide.

To Alvra’s amazement and horror, the Treasury is deserted. Where are the Honor Guards?!  When he sees two house guards patrolling, he orders one to stand in front of the Treasury door, and sends the other to Quarra to report the missing Treasury guards. But then Amalika strolls in, alluring as ever. She seems happy to see him again… until she hears what happened. She orders Alvra to open the door, which is not locked. Amalika checks the treasury and a cold rage grips her: the Mask of the Matriarch. It is gone!

Go and inform Quarra about the disappearance at once!

All frivolity has vanished. The Fighter knows better than to argue and hurries back to alert his eldest sister himself. On his way down, he runs into Jharrath. The Wizard doesn’t look well, the poison still active in his body. Quickly Alvra fills Jharrath in on the latest developments. The wizard waves his brother onward and then turns around to head for the throne room to aid Phaedra.

The Scout, one of the minotaurs safely blocking the door, loads her hand-crossbow and grabs an object from her backpack. By now she hears shuffling and panting from the dark, and it’s coming closer. Quickly she shields her eyes and then throws a flash pellet in the direction of the sounds. The intruder cries out in anger and agony. When Phaedra tentatively opens her eyes, she sees a male drow, dressed in black, who looks wounded. The dart trap must have been aimed well.

Don’t let him get away, close the door and keep it shut until I tell otherwise,

she snaps at the minotaur. Phaedra then tries to trip the intruder, but somehow he evades her. Dropping into a defensive crouch, he still has trouble focusing due to the light flare. In his hands a rapier and a dagger. This man is no novice to fighting. Again Phaedra attacks, but to no avail, she can’t seem to hit the man.

Knock him down but try not to kill him!

As the other minotaur moves in to obey, the man in the black cape suddenly lunges at Phaedra. He wields his weapons expertly and wounds the female with his dagger, after which he again crouches into a defensive position. The fishy smell that comes from her wounds tells Phaedra that she has been poisoned, again. She feels a rigidity settling in her joints.

A voice at the door hisses to get the minotaur’s attention.

Open up, it is me, Jharrath. Let me in!

Since his mistress only said not to let anyone out, the minotaur figures it is OK to let someone in. The Wizard pushes past the big guardian and sees a dark figure in combat with his sister and another minotaur aiding her. The assassin blocks and counterattacks, but when the Scout sees an opening, she finally manages to trip him.

Knock him unconscious, don’t kill him!

she yells, but again the drow breaks free. Jharrath casts a spell that slows him down, but only a little. The assassin lunges towards the Wizard and his rapier pierces Jharrath’s shoulder. Again he casts a spell and suddenly a huge web appears, catching them all. Phaedra, alert as ever, delivers a blow to the intruder’s head. For a moment no one moves, and then the drow male’s eyes roll slowly backwards.

Clerics have come to the mass hall to heal the suffering. Having done all she can at the moment, Lilith returns to Quarra. She arrives just in time to hear the bad news from Alvra. They all hurry towards the treasury. Quarry looks worried. This could be a huge problem; the Matron Mother needs to know as soon as possible.

Go back to the Council of the Eight Ruling Houses, Amalika, and inform Lady Thandysha that the quest for the Mask of the Matriarch has failed. Not a word on the infiltration of the house though!

Failed?! Lilith and Alvra exchange a meaningful glance, holding their tongues.

To be continued!