Investigating

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Back at the Xaniqos mansion, the sisters immediately head towards the throne room,
where Lady Thandysha and Taldinyon are busy celebrating. Together, Lilith and Phaedra summarize what has happened since they left the Arena.

“Three guards are dead and Solaufein is missing! The tracks show that he has been taken into the ghetto of Performers.”

“Do you know who has been hired to take this hostile action against our house?”

“The Riskallus Agency, Matron Mother.”

Lady Thandysha bursts into anger. “Only assassins of House Aleval are equally good. We have to free the Captain of the Guard. He knows too much of our House!” With a visual effort, Lady Thandysha regains her self-control. “I want him back as soon as possible. Leargath will help. This insult cannot be forgiven or ignored. The element of surprise is of great importance here.”

While the others rest, Phaedra will go back to investigate the house of the assassin’s guild. When she’s about to leave, Jharrath hands her a potion of haste. She nods her thanks, adds the potion to her belt, and hastens outside. When she’s near the Riskallus guild house, she climbs on top of the adjacent building, takes the wizard’s potion and changes into a translucent and weightless puff of smoke. Her spiked chain makes a bit of noise, which fortunately causes a guard to show himself. She is not detected though.

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Once inside the building, she sees an arcane guard in heavy mail,  carrying a spell book. On a lower level, a male drow walks past, his white hair in a bun and a short sword strapped to his back. The elf is currently engaged in a heated argument with a priestess.

“House Despana wants results as soon as possible!”, the female drow hisses.

“And we’d love to provide you with them, Xiletha, but it would be advisable if you took a little less pleasure in torturing our prisoners. Already two of them have perished. We will take care of the last two ourselves.” They disappear down the stairs, and Phaedra returns to the roof, as her translucent form soon will dissipate.

Heavy footsteps lure her to the opposite side. A big golem stands next to two
drow of House Despana. They are no typical priestesses, but look like cult members, wearing the symbols of Lolth. Phaedra realizes that they are mostly highly devoted fighters or assassins, pledging their lives to Lolth and the clerics who serve them. A cart with Duergar merchandise pulls up front, and two persons, a bag over their heads and in chains, are locked up inside. Phaedra recognizes one of the cloaks as Xaniqos. The cart goes one way, while the group goes another. Phaedra decides to follow the prisoners.

They are taken into Despana territory, where the cart stops at a warehouse near the Great Wall. The doors open and two drow guards come out, talk to the driver and then take the prisoners inside. The warehouse is two stories high, approximately 50 feet high and 75 feet wide. Phaedra is about to return home when she hears the golem stamping in the street; the other group has arrived. The Xaniqos scout now has to hurry. Soon they will start torturing the last two prisoners.

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Meanwhile back at the mansion, Alvra, whose wounds are infected, sends someone into the city of Erelhei-Cinlu to obtain healing potions. When the servant returns, the fighter asks a priestess to check out the medicine. “This might work. Where did you get them?” She addresses the servant. “At a local pharmacy, mistress.” The fighter gobbles down the smelly liquid and immediately feels better. Alvra offers his cleric sister the other potion, but she declines and tells him to save it for later. Lilith heals Jharrath and herself with spells.

After a power nap, Phaedra opens the package of the Spymaster. Inside she finds a big
scroll with a map of a cave complex. A smaller scroll in elaborate handwriting says: “Beware. We know you are hunting treasures, but they might be cursed.” The treasure map shows a location far to the north of Erelhei Cinlu, near Szith Morcane.
Might this be where the rod is? She takes the map to the Matron Mother.

“I went back to the area of Performers. The building was indeed a hide-out of the
Riskallus Agency. I was able to sneak into the building and can confirm that House Despana is behind the kidnapping. The prisoners were transferred to one of the buildings in their district. The Despana family members who took custody of our guards are dreadfangs. And they have a golem too. They want to know if we have the rod ‘Dark Fate’. Speaking of which…”

Phaedra hands over the map.

“Thank you, child, we will look into it. I see this as an attack on our House and they will feel our wrath.” Lady Thandysha makes up her mind. “We will strike back at them right now!”

Where is the Captain of the Guard?

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After the fight, the Xaniqos siblings return to their Matron Mother, who is waiting for them in the noble area of the arena. The atmosphere is splendid – contrary to that of House Despana. Lady Thandysha promises the fighters a great banquet in their honor, as their victory has increased the chance that their side of the bargain with the Spider Queen has been kept.

You are all expected at the mansion. But first, go and freshen up. Solafein will pick you up later and escort you home.

Lady Thandysha and her entourage disappear down the stairs, accompanied by K’yorl and Quarra, who animatedly talk about the fight.

The drow take an extensive bath in the bowels of the arena, while slaves bring tidbits to eat, clean their clothes and try to repair their drow equipment. When the Xaniqos are finally done, an attendant takes them back to the main quarters.

I hope you have enjoyed your time at the Arena. And I do hope to see you back again!

When Lilith inquires after his profits in the bets, his grin is significant. They wait for a while near the entrance but the hall stays empty: where is their Captain of the Guard? Where is Solaufein?

It is getting late, and after a brief consultation about their route home, Phaedra leads the way towards the Ghetto of Chatel of House Vae – the only ghetto in the immediate vicinity that is in favor of the Xaniqos. The Old Battle Axe is still busy, even at this time. The drow walk past. The women feel like many eyes are watching them, though the guys seem undisturbed. When they pass the troglodytes burrows, the creatures flee from the Xaniqos. Not too far though, for they can still see their eyes glistening from the shadows.

As the drow walk deeper into the district, the streets are more deserted. Lilith speeds up their pace and enters the Troll quarters. A duergar, accompanied by two goblinoid slaves, pushes a wheelcart. The Xaniqos cleric stops and watches them, while Phaedra observes a couple of troglodytes that rummage near a body on the ground. Next to them, a large troll lifts another humanoid body in the air and loots it, while another stares back at the drow.

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The scout runs forward and yells “Stop!”. The giant peals the armor off the body and strips the humanoid, not reacting to the shouted command. One of the troglodytes pokes the unmoving victim and takes a big bite.

Coming closer, Lilith recognizes the cloaks of the unmoving bodies. They are Xaniqos! She calls out in Draconic “Stop right now!”. The troglodytes take off in a hurry. One of the trolls bares its yellow teeth at the cleric and growls, while the other starts to walk away. The creatures are kind of shaggy and their claws are long and filthy. And that smell…

Phaedra shoots her crossbow at the departing giant to prevent him from moving further away. That finally seems to get its attention. She signs “Stop”. Now both trolls turn towards the advancing drow. Alvra takes an intimidating stance, sliding his sword from its scabbard, while the cleric comes closer to try and identify the body. A quick glance shows her that it is not Solafein. “Does any of you speak giant?” Phaedra’s question is met with silence. Behind the wizard, new faces appear in the shadows. The possibility of an oncoming fight draws a crowd. Then Jharrath calls out in Goblin. “Leave the bodies!”

As a reaction, the troll smashes the dangling body in its claws on top of Lilith. She barely manages to step aside, and the claws of the giant rake down her armor. The other troll attacks the two drow brothers. Alvra counters the attack with his sword, while Lilith casts a spell. Her size increases and her muscles bulge. She becomes as large as the trolls. Phaedra steps back and takes out her spiked chain.

A Kellgore’s firebolt sizzles into a troll. The other troll goes into a rage and attacks Alvra with its claws, tearing deep wounds in the fighter’s body. Almost at once a feeling of sickness comes over him. Alvra recovers and strikes the troll hard, but it’s a tough fellow. Lilith attacks with her momentarily enhanced flail and activates its special ability. The resulting fire leaves angry scorch marks on her opponent’s body. Enraged, it claws at the cleric and manages to hurt the female drow. The gashes are nasty and likely to get infected too. Scorching rays from the wizard’s wand and ferocious attacks with Phaedra’s spiked chain bring an end to one of the trolls. The drow combine their strength and go after the remaining creature and finally, Alvra manages to take it down. Jharrath grills both troll corpses with scorching rays, to make sure they don’t regenerate.

Lilith gathers her siblings in a healing circle and manages to nullify most of their wounds. When they search the lifeless bodies of the two Xaniqos guards, they find a drow bolt embedded in the neck of one, while the other is expertly stabbed to death. This has been no random robbery. They’ll have to investigate what happened here.

Phaedra searches the soft ground for tracks and discovers humanoid footprints and drag marks. Might this be Solaufein’s? At least one of the abductors is bleeding. When they follow the tracks, the scout walking ahead, the trail leads them back towards the Concours in the middle of Erelhei-Cinlu, and then further on into the Ghetto of Performers. House Aleval! When Phaedra rounds a corner, she is met by two drow, dressed in black from head to toe. Their cloaks, black with a purple border, reveal them as Sharran.

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Spymaster Kyrl Orl sends his regards and a warning. Your search must stop here, or you will be caught and die a horrible death. We’ve been following you for a while. Around the corner are two assassins waiting in ambush.

Do they have our Captain of the Guard? We suspect he was taken into this district.

Yes, they do. He is taken by the Riskallus Agency, one of the best assassin agencies in the ghetto.

I thank you for your warning, even though it is hard to imagine your warning being free. How do we contact you?

One of them hands her a scroll.

Don’t worry, we will find you. May Shar be with you.

Phaedra walks back to her siblings and tells them about the two drow in black, sent by the Spymaster. There is nothing they can do at the moment, so the Xaniqos walk home in silence, lost in their thoughts.

Xaniqos versus Despana

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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.

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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 an arrow 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.

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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!

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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!

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The crowd goes absolutely berserk, and under a massive applause, the drow are escorted from the arena.

The Arena

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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.

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!

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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.