Phaedra rounds up her siblings. “I just returned from the Matron Mother. She wants us to free our Captain of the Guard immediately.” Alvra hurriedly searches for Leargath and finds him in a downstairs room. The half-demon looks up. “I hear you can use my services? Call me intrigued.” He takes his scythe. “And this, this needs to taste blood. Just make sure you stay out of my way.”
The five Xaniqos warriors make their way towards the warehouse, which is situated up against the great wall of Erelhei-Cinlu. Everyone gives them a wide berth because of the draegloth. He is very intimidating. According to their plan, the half-demon, Lilith, and Alvra will enter the warehouse through the front door, while Phaedra and Jharrath sneak inside.
When they arrive at the end of the street, they see that the warehouse has two wooden doors that open to the outside, but no windows. The cleric calls upon her deity to give them divine protection, extra strength for the fighter and herself and fortifies Alvra’s weapon. “Try to keep it quiet for now, or at least until we are inside.” The draegloth bares his teeth in a ferocious smile.
Cleric and fighter examine the entrance together. There seem to be no traps, but there is a wooden beam on the inside, barring the door. First Leargath tries to lift the bar through the slot of the door, but when that doesn’t work, the males decide to kick in the door. Their cooperation isn’t that successful though, so the half-demon tries on his own. He takes a couple of steps back and charges. The doors rattle but won’t budge. A second try only hurts his shoulder, so drow and half-demon go for it together once more. What they don’t know is that Jharrath casts one of his spells on the lock at the exact time they make contact. The doors fly open and Alvra and Leargath tumble inside.
Two drow guards – clearly not expecting this sudden entrance – attack Leargath. Seems like the wish of his scythe will be fulfilled. One of the guards tries a fire spell on the draegloth, but to no avail. Leargath now is getting in the mood, blood spraying his white mane. The screams are getting worse, only to end abruptly when the draegloth beheads his victim. One more left to play with.
When Alvra checks out the warehouse, he sees a room in the corner, several crates, barrels and a drow mage. He charges him and swings his sword. The weapon doesn’t meet with resistance though, and the image of the mage is gone. The fighter quickly looks around and sees the same man standing in the room, laughing, a multicolored aura around him. Suddenly an illithid materializes in front of the Xaniqos fighter! The creature walks towards Alvra, but the drow’s faith does not waver and he sees through the illusion. The illithid is gone, and so is the mage’s smirk.
Lilith calls down a flamestrike, engulfing the shield guardian construct in roaring fire, and prepares another spell. The golem is badly wounded but still tries to grapple Alvra. The fighter immediately counterattacks and manages to free himself. Waiting for the right moment, the Xaniqos cleric releases a darkbolt from her hand, and the jet-black flames bring the construct to the brink of destruction. Alvra’s sword finishes him off.
Phaedra, who has checked out the exterior of the warehouse, locates a hole in the wall and sees a stairway leading down. She reasons that that might be the place House Despana keeps their prisoners and calls out to Jharrath. No sense in keeping quiet with all the ruckus that is going on inside. The wizard casts a communication spell, including both his sisters. Getting her bearings, Phaedra walks back towards the entrance. She tumbles past the golem and ends at the top of the stairs.
The mage, heavily frustrated, casts protection on himself and, surrounded by a light blue globe, walks past Alvra and Phaedra unchallenged. His will is too strong for them to overcome and the Xaniqos cannot attack him directly. Seething with frustration, the siblings watch the Despana drow. The scout whispers ‘Going downstairs, can’t hit the mage,’ and both Jharrath and Lilith hear her words through the wizard’s spell.
The scout walks into the basement and passes a portcullis. Masses of pointed chains hang from the ceiling, blocking her view. She activates a special ability that, when triggered, will dazzle the mage, so she will no longer be visible to him. Phaedra walks until the end of the corridor and hears how the chains start to move. A humanoid appears, more chains wrapped around him. It seems like the chains respond to the creature, and suddenly four chains seem to grow longer and attack and hurt Phaedra.
Alvra glances into the mage’s room and sees a desk and a bookcase. If he can’t attack the mage directly, he will try to intimidate the Despana brigand. He jumps behind him and roars “I’ll feed your balls to the rats!” As a result of this unconventional approach, the mage staggers on the stairs. The cleric, in pursuit of her sister, walks towards him. She is not impressed by the mage’s sanctuary spell and attacks him with her flail. The mage hastily retreats into the basement. Alvra searches the mage’s room. Apart from a desk and a bookcase, he discovers a big chest.
Jharrath uses his wand of magic missiles and hits the remaining arcane guard in the back, but soon realizes that the guard is no match for the half-demon. It won’t take long now. The wizard decides to go after the Despana mage. Alvra checks outside, but all seems quiet for now. “I’m going downstairs too, Leargath!”. A death gurgle announces the end of the second arcane guard.
Meanwhile, Phaedra is in combat with the kyton chain devil. She hits the creature again and again with her spiked chain, but the damage is less than expected. Then her own chain turns against her, clearly being controlled by the strange power of the chain devil, and wraps itself around her. The hooks of the chain bite in her flesh. Trying to free herself, she looks around and sees a torture device in an alcove.
The Xaniqos wizard walks through the chained corridor, peeks around the corner and recognizes the chain devil. He knows these creatures regenerate and have a high resistance to spells, so he summons a large earth elemental to fight for him in stead. The elemental immediately attacks and hits the chain devil. With renewed energy, Phaedra manages to unwrap her chain, lashes out at the kyton devil and moves past their summoned ally.
Lilith and Alvra arrive downstairs too and run towards the corner to see what is happening. The fighter takes one of his javelins and aims at the chain devil. He throws so hard that the creature is impaled on the wall. For a moment it hangs on but then it disappears back to the nine hells whence it came from.
Having lost his ally, the Despana mage wants to flee down the corridor, but Phaedra blocks his way. Jharrath quickly strips him of his protection spells and items, so the earth elemental can attack. In two mighty blows, the mage is dead.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.