Dunspeirrin

1

When the Xaniqos are rested, they again travel the winding corridors of the Underdark, until they arrive in a huge domed paradise of stalagmites and stalactites. An immense abyss opens up before them, a long broad bridge connecting the tunnels to the dwarven city of Dunspeirrin. They have made it to their destination! Of course, Dunspeirrin lacks the sophisticated appearance of a Drow settlement!

Carts are crossing the bridge in both directions, transporting a never ending stream of goods like coals and gems from the mines, slaves (even Drow), Goblinoids, Svirfneblin and of course many Duergar. A cacophony of sounds emanates from the city, the noise is overwhelming after the relative silence in the abandoned smaller Underdark tunnels. The people of Dunspeirrin don’t pay much attention to the Drow, being only a few among the many who travel and trade here. Dunspeirrin is always at war, either with Shield dwarves over their mines or with their ancient enemies the Illithid. The place itself is always busy with mining resources for weapon forging.

SvirfneblinIllithid

There are several guard posts stationed on the bridge, while others are patrolling – marshall law rules in this town – but the Xaniqos pass unhindered, walking through huge massive open doors. Once closed, this city is an impregnable fortress. In the city, the noise is even louder, a chaos of sounds, sulfur and coals. The blows of blacksmiths resonate in the heavy air.

In the middle of an open plaza is a large market with pens, filled with animals and slaves. In this city a word is a word, and a contract is a contract. Ninety percent of the traders is Duergar. They look at the Xaniqos Cleric with a sense of admiration and respect, and Alvra’s armor is also viewed approvingly. Lilith’s Scout sister Phaedra attracts little attention, so does the Wizard; the Duergar are not into magic.

Spiders, rothé, lizards (both draft and riding animals), ratites, amphibians, dragonflies, praying mantises, beatles – there’s an enormous variety of animals. Amid the chaos, Alvra spots a pen with twelve riding lizards. Two Duergar are standing in front of them, one is covered in dust with soot on his face, the other looks like a guard. The merchant introduces himself as Murgol Coalhewer.

These beautiful animals are about four years old and trained in combat. Each costs 2000 gold pieces, including riding gear.

The lizards are not the least troubled by the noise around them. Alvra knows that an untrained lizard is worth 500 gold pieces, plus an additional 1000 gold pieces for the training. Lilith asks the merchant if her brother can check on the lizards, which Murgol allows. All seem to be fine and in a good condition.

The Cleric offers 10.000 gold pieces for eight riding animals, but to her surprise the trader offers her another deal: all twelve lizards for 10.000 plus a service.

In the past week one of the mines failed to bring up coal, and neither did we receive any messages. I have sent in two enforcers, but they still have not returned. There might be a Delver at work, a huge dungeoneering aberration. This beast is quite rare, it is an underground delver that is very fond of stone. The nightmare of every miner. A lair would be a disaster. Their skin is acid and any contact will eat through metal. The beast is neutral in attitude, but will fiercely defend its territory. My claim on this particular mine is too good to leave it and find another; the investments have been to costly. What is your decision, Cleric?

Delver

Lilith agrees to his proposal and asks if there’s an inn where they might stay. Fortunately Murgol’s cousin, Ivar Hammerhead, runs the Hamer & Anvil Inn. They will recognize Ivar by his lack of hair. The trader will meet them there the next morning and escort them to the mine, which is situated on the outskirts of Dunspeirrin.

The inn is filled with 99% Duergar, who are drinking, eating and gambling. The bald dwarf will make room for the Xaniqos and feed them with rothé stew. When Jharrath inquires after the herbs he uses, the Duergar smirks. We just roast them, that’s it. And the beverages are mainly beer and wine. Ivar then spits in a glass and ‘cleans’ it with a towel, whereupon the wizard asks for a bottle of wine. Closed. Chateau de Mithral Hall 😉

The inn keeper then sends two Duergar upstairs to clean and clear the rooms for his new customers. Five minutes later another Duergar rolls face-first down the stairs, soon followed by a semi-clothed dwarven woman. They hastily leave the establishment, booed by the clientele. It would have been better if they had paid for their room. Lilith and Alvra visit the market again to replenish their potion stocks. In the evening the Xaniqos siblings go upstairs to their rooms, which are dusty and not really clean, though the sturdy latch on the door compensates for the untidiness.

The Hall of Shadows

1

The Xaniqos gather in the throne room, where the Matron Mother awaits them.

Because of the latest developments, House Godeep is not interested in a collaboration anymore. We have been made a fool of. House Vae is still interested – though they are not well liked – but for it will suffice.

The day has come to strike back against the second House. Take all your gear with you, for you will leave the city immediately. Do not expect to return until things have cooled down. You will act against House Aleval tonight!

Your target is Charicide, a Bard of great renown, who was once part of the family of Aleval. This evening Charicide performs in the Hall of Shadows, a theater in the Ghetto of Performers. Afterwards she will pay a visit to the Silk Curtain, to enjoy the company of men. Take care of her there.

Further instructions will be given to you in Blessed Seahaven, a small Kua-Toas settlement, led by Pliil Seachild. Since – being Drow – we are all honorary Kua-Toas, these creatures will help you. Their demi-god is Blid Dool Poolp. Take the route over the Glimmersea to Dunspeirrin and return overland with an army of lizards in a few weeks.

The siblings prepare themselves for the journey. Lilith hands her sister a bottle of holy water, and together they visit Lolth’s shrine. Platinum and diamonds, worth five thousand gold pieces, are entrusted to the Cleric for negotiations over the riding lizards, plus extra  gold pieces for daily needs. Jharrath has crafted anti-toxin and gives his sisters one potion each.

In the evening they leave for the Halls of Shadows. The buildings in this Ghetto are fancy and lush, it is all decadency – no slums. The old Hall of Shadows was destroyed in the past and the place has been rebuilt into a grand half-circle theater in the typical Drow architecture. The theater slowly slopes down towards the stage and it is crowded with nobles. Aleval Guards patrol the area and the Xaniqos leave their weapons and backpacks in the checkroom.

They are escorted to their seats and watch flashy and magic acrobatics being performed on stage. Next is a mime artist. He is not really that good and the more nervous he gets, the more mistakes he makes. The crowd gets agitated and suddenly a Drow magician stands up, deep in trance. A moment later a dirty filthy demon appears on stage. It grabs a heavy chain that is wrapped around its body and, cheered on by the crowd, crushes the mime artist with its multiple arms. He then devours him. The magician, notwithstanding the clamor that erupts around him, never loses his concentration and sends the demon back to its plane. Bugbears clean up the mess on the suddenly empty stage.

Ten minutes later the curtains open again to reveal a man in flashy – though bit overdone – garments. Meet Shelos, the owner of the amphitheater. He has a ready, cynical tongue. For a Drow, he is even comical. When he announces Charicide, the audience goes wild.

A young Drow female steps out. Dressed in a shimmering cloack she is gorgeous and lithe. Then an ugly troll enters the stage. Next to Charicide, this giant seems extra large. The Bard takes out her 64-stringed lute, called Vazhan-do, and starts playing. A wailing sounds fills the theater. When after a while the music picks up speed, she suddenly draws her rapier and starts cutting the troll, faster and faster, while the music somehow lingers. The giant stands motionless and doesn’t move. Fingers and other body parts are hacked off. Fortunately trolls have the ability to regenerate their limbs (as long as they are not hit by acid or fire). For the next fifteen minutes the audience is captivated, under the spell of the performance of music and fight. When Charicide finally stops, the whole theater erupts in cheers and salvos of applause. This artist is a feast to the eyes: a true performer!

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>>  what came before

The Lizard Rider

1

The next day, Phaedra, Jharrath and Lilith are invited into the Matron Mother’s throne room. They are led onto the balcony, which overlooks an arena where three goblins are waiting. Two rows of dummies are situated near the opposite walls. On the other side, their brother Alvra is atop a huge riding lizard, dressed in a brand new shiny piwafwi. Alvra greets the Matron Mother, who nods back. She explains to the others that the Fighter will give them a demonstration of the use of mounts in combat. ‘This might give us an advantage over the other Houses’, Lady Thandysha says, ‘but its usefulness remains to be seen’. Because of the Priestess Wars not many mounts are left; this would be House Xaniqos’ first.

Alvra urges his lizard forward and charges the goblins. The creatures react enthusiastically. Weird, considering their survival chances. The Fighter’s javelin misses the walking fodder in the middle. When the lizard next tries to bite the green creature, it starts to look a bit doubtful. That expression is wiped away when the reptile’s claws rake off its head.

The remaining goblins take up new positions and Alvra takes the opportunity to throw a second javelin. This time he hits and one of the creatures takes a spear in his body. The other humanoid has a big smile on his face, gazes up at the Drow and… attacks his injured fellow goblin!

With one thrust, he kills the other and parades the battle field like he’s the winner. Apparently the creature made a pact with the Drow Fighter. But there can only be one winner, and that is not this goblinoid! Alvra steers his mount towards the beaming goblin and with one swipe of his mighty sword he cleaves the green monster in half. Seems like the deal is off!

Alvra leads his riding lizard towards the balcony. The Lady Thandysha tells her son that he might need more training and further development of his combat tactics, but that overall it was an enjoyable performance.

Well done, Alvra. You have shown me you may spend more time on cavalry. Acquire more of these animals in Dunspeirrin.

Guards, clean up the area, and son, report up here within the hour!

With a swipe of her garb, the Matron Mother leaves the scene.

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>>  what came before

In the Demon’s Den

0

Back at the mansion, Lilith and Phaedra talk to the orc cook. He is trembling, very afraid of his life at this point, and tells them that Jevan was in his kitchen for quite a while. After the drow cook left, nothing seemed out of order, but the orc did discover a couple of jars with new herbs. Phaedra escorts the cook to his mess kitchen to point out all new ingredients and secure them.

The Xaniqos brothers bring Jevan’s body in and call upon their eldest sister to perform a ritual that enables them to speak to the dead.  Quarra agrees, dying to know more herself. She admonishes Lilith to ask only very explicit questions and then plunges into her spell, concentrating hard. The High Priestess’ hands begin to glow and soon she calls out to the spirit of Jevan to come back from the dead.

Lilith asks Jevan’s corpse, who is helplessly caught in Quarra’s spell:

What is the name of the one who ordered you to poison House Xaniqos?

Amalika.

Her eyes widen in recognition when she hears the eerie voice. That treacherous betraying daughter of a… In a frosty voice, she asks:

And who gave you the poisonous herbs?

Bergen.

Bergen is a local merchant, known for his trade in poisons.

Amalika is the betrayer, the Matron Mother’s trusted adviser! It might well be possible that the Lady Thandysha doesn’t know anything yet about the missing Mask. It could even be that she never asked for the Mask of the Matriarch at all and that the alliance with House Godeep is only based on Amalika’s lies. Amalika’s influence on the Xaniqos politiques was big, since she was the adviser in the alliance affairs. We might have to reconsider all that has happened since the Council!

Provided with six hundred gold pieces and several healing potions, the Xaniqos siblings set out – Lilith in the lead – to follow the only lead left by the assassin.

Let’s find that bitch!

They march to the Demon’s Den and are greeted by a lot of noise and commotion. The Den is packed with many half drow, bugbears, humans with green cloaks – none are wearing house insignias – and it is really busy. Phaedra mingles with the crowd, quickly hiding her Xaniqos insignia. The Demon’s Den has a main entrance, a second exit at the back of the bar and another that probably leads to the cellar. A stairway is leading up to the first floor.

The Scout makes her way to the back of the establishment, when suddenly she spots Amalika, who is in the company of three others, two males, one female. The men look conspicuously like the assassin. The female is more common. Her features are harsh and she is constantly scanning the crowd, not drinking. Phaedra heads back towards Lilith and briefs her sister on the situation. The siblings place themselves in strategic places: Alvra stays at the main entrance, the wizard positions himself at the bottom of the stairs and the Scout dives back into the crowd.

Look at her, sitting there with a smug smile on her face. Nobody makes a fool out of House Xaniqos! Straightening her shoulders, Lilith walks straight towards the table where Amalika is still chatting, oblivious to the fact that the Xaniqos have arrived. The Cleric boldly takes the chair next to the traitor and sits down. Everyone tenses, ready to jump into action. The two assassins draw their wicked weapons.

Well, well, well, look who’s here! If that isn’t our dear friend Amalika! Pardon me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you supposed to be at the Council?

Hello Lilith, so nice of you to drop by. Are you looking for something?

Yeah, something and someone!

The Cleric notices the female’s weapon, which is dripping and pulsing with green poison. The woman introduces herself as Zaetha, owner of the establishment.

I must say, Amalika, I admire your scheming. Matron Mother Thandysha of course knows nothing of the Mask of the Matriarch, am I right?

Amalika nods, content with herself.

You have played your role of trusted confidante of the House of Xaniqos quite well. But where does your alliance really lie?

Haven’t you guessed by now? My liege lies with the House Aleval.

Allied with the Second House! The Cleric assesses the situation. The common room is filled with people and lots of bodyguards are circling the room. The assassins look like they know their way with weapons, as does Zaetha. Not a good place to settle the score.

Well, then I guess that’s it for now. I’ll be leaving, but this isn’t the end of it. Until next time, Amalika.

With her head held high, Lilith marches out of the door, followed by Alvra. Phaedra whispers in the passing that she will stay a bit longer to keep an eye on things. As soon as the Xaniqos have left, the atmosphere becomes relaxed again.

Outside they find their Wizard brother, who has been sent out earlier. They return home and report to Quarra. Around midnight, a large group of drow returns to the house. The Lady Thandysha strides in, pleased about the Council. There is good news: a possible alliance with both House Godeep and House Vae. She orders her daughters to join her later with a full report.

After an hour Lilith and Phaedra are summoned to the Matron Mother’s throne room. She is not so pleased anymore, and in the corner two unhappy minotaurs are sulking, their furs bloodied. The Matron Mother stares at her daughters.

Well, why don’t you go ahead and tell our Mother Thandysha  all that has happened, Lilith?

Quarra’s voice is silken, but the Cleric’s voice is even smoother when she replies

Ah no, Quarra, I couldn’t. Will you – as the elder sister – do the honor?

The high priestess glares at Lilith, but then explains about the arrival of Amalika, their quest for the Mask of the Matron Mother and the betrayal. Lady Thandysha is quiet for a few moments and then orders:

You shall strike back at House Aleval within a week. There is a private performer in the service of Matron Mother Mevremas. KILL HER! After that you will disappear for a while, and go to Dunspeirrin.

Dunspeirrin, also known as the City of Sunken Spires, is one of the wealthiest and best known Duergar trade cities of the Underdark. It has been fighting with kingdoms and groups around them for centuries. They war against Illithid every now and then, but are constantly engaged in a struggle against the Shield Dwarfs.

When Lilith asks her mother if Amalika could be double-crossing them, the Lady Thandysha replies that it might be possible, but they will take the risk anyway. Lilith rushes off to find her brothers. They should prepare as soon as possible for this trip, that will take several weeks.