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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.