The Slave Market

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The date of the big feast draws nearer and the drow siblings start to feel at home in the Xaniqos Manor. Lilith, who has increased her status as a full noble of the house, is kept busy with social meetings and other activities that befit her station. At some point Phaedra pulls the cleric aside and tells her that she’s been keeping tails on Blessed Seahaven.

Something fishy is going on. There are Kua-toas present who don’t follow Blid Dool Poolp, and there are Shar’ans about. Do you want to check it out?

The cleric gladly takes the opportunity to get away from her social obligations for a while. Together they go in search of their brothers. Jharrath is in his room, but to get Alvra, they have to go to the training grounds. Many Xaniqos soldiers are training, and their brother is practicing with javelins: broken sandbags and splintered wooden dummies are silent witnesses of the fighter’s prowess.

You have ten minutes to freshen up and be ready,

Lilith orders. Everyone seems to be training fanatically. A group of eight drow is drilled in crossbow tactics. All goes smoothly and it is a sight to behold. Orcs hastily help don Alvra’s gnashing armor.

The four leave for the Ghetto of Chattel; both Alvra and Phaedra have been there more often. It is an interesting area, though some parts are not that safe. There are many slave traders, even mindflayers. Their miserable wares stare blindly into the distance; among them orcs, goblins, and even drow, some duergar, ogres and giant ettins.

When the Xaniqos continue uphill, they arrive at a big square. A cacophony of sounds greets them, where traders shout in undercommon, people talk and pull their weapons. The market is rather organized. In the middle of the square a group of six slaves is being sold, their fighting spirit broken. Only the bite of a whip can bring back some power to their dull eyes.

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Among the visitors are a couple of kua-toas. They are not participating in the trade, but observe everything closely. Phaedra signals to her sister and quietly mingles with the crowd. Drow guards of House Vae patrol in groups of four. They seem to mind their own business, as long as no one asks for their assistance.

The slave traders with cheaper ‘wares’ bid against each other in loud voices. Lilith heads towards a dais where the more exclusive slaves are sold, but is not allowed any closer. House Tormtor seems to be looking for fighters. The cleric is told she can make an appointment if she wants special slaves, like spell casters.

Phaedra notices that an elderly drow often is assisting in the higher deals. The male takes notes with a large feather pen in a book, which a slave carries. He keeps an eye on all that is going on. Phaedra walks towards the ancient one and waits until he notices her. He doesn’t seem to wear a House insignia.

Greetings, Sir, do you keep track of the higher purchases?

Yes, I do.

And do only Erelhei-Cinlu inhabitants do the buying?

No, other cities as well. Looblishar loses as many slaves as they buy.

Does Blessed Seahaven also buy slaves?

No, they have never kept slaves.

But do other kua-toas buy them?

Yes, actually there’s a meeting scheduled tomorrow.

Phaedra continues:

And if we wanted a private audience at our House, could that be arranged?

Yes.

Thank you, I’m much obliged.

With that, the scout returns to her siblings and quickly informs them of her discoveries.

Test of Lolth

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To Alvra’s relief, two of his javelins can be salvaged. The relief doesn’t last long though, for soon he feels sickened. The others tend to their equipment and investigate the cave.  Then Lilith hears a dark voice inside her head.

Continue your journey alone!

This time she feels she must obey the command. There’s only one way forward. The cleric tries to crawl through the opening, but it is too narrow: she will have to take her armor off. Phaedra helps her sister shed the metal protection. Her way leads upwards and she has to fight her way through debris. Then she finds herself in a small room, fifteen feet in diameter. Something is staring at her, best defined as a swollen tumor, bristling with spider legs. The abomination seems to be in eternal agony. Lilith suspects this is one one she was looking for. There still seems to be some drow awareness left. Contorted by pain it says:

The Spider Queen warned me you would come. You have failed her!

I don’t believe a word you say.

The Shunned lets out a wail of agony – the noise ear splitting – but Lilith is determined and believes wholeheartedly in Lolth. Her faith shines strong and she is not affected by the wail at all. The cleric counterattacks with two darkbolts, but she doesn’t succeed: her spell fails. Mumbling

I knew it, this is my chance,

the creature attacks, but something magical stops her. Frustrated she steps back. Lilith immediately lashes out with her flail, adding extra fire damage, and hits the creature twice. Suddenly a swarm of spiders floods from the Shunned’s mouth. The hairy spiders swarm towards the cleric, but her fortitude proves too strong. The Xaniqos merely shrugs her shoulders and concentrates on her opponent. She calls on her deity to grant her Bebilith Blessing, but again the connection to Lolth seems severed. Nothing happens! The Shunned tries to sink her teeth in the Xaniqos, but misses. The spiders it set loose on the drow swarm all over Lilith, but so far they don’t harm her.

Shunned

Another flail attack misses, and the extra bonuses she was granted, also disappear. The Spider Queen does not seem interested in this fight. With her rod of grievous wounds, the drow finally is able to make a statement. The Shunned hisses

Surrender! Lay down your weapon!

but Lilith laughs at her, her resolve is high. To make a statement, she attacks with her flail and scores a hit. The Shunned controlled spiders don’t seem to like that and bite the drow. The Shunned also sinks her teeth in the cleric’s side, but two more flail attacks end that bite feast quickly. Lilith feels sickened though, especially after another attack of the spider swarm. Again the creature bites her and a wave of weakness flows through Lilith’s muscles. Grinding her teeth, she ignores her wounds, takes a tanglefoot bag and aims it successfully at the Shunned: the beast’s movements slow. That gives her the strength to handle her flail again, but before she can get ready for a second attack, the Shunned’ face changes into the image of Phaedra.

Sister, it’s me! This is a trick of the Spider Queen, don’t fall for it!

Lilith’s faith never wavers and with determination she lashes out with her flail, putting her whole strength – at least what is still left – into the attack. She scores a full hit. The creature’s face changes back to the Shunned. Then the spiders disappear and slowly the creature topples forward. She is dead.

The cleric falls down on her knees and bows her head to her deity. Gratitude fulfills her. This time her prayers are answered.

Your faith in me has been very strong, Lilith. You have not doubted me, and you should not. Return to your house and know that you have pleased me.

The bites on her arm transform into a spider mark under her skin. She crawls back through the corridor, where she is greeted by her brothers and sister – they seem happy she made it. When Phaedra helps her don her armor, she notices that Lilith is covered in tiny spider bites, and a mark on her arm is bright red.

In the ghetto, the Xaniqos siblings are not bothered on their way home. They arrive back at the gate, where the Matron Mother already is waiting. She seems pretty interested

Welcome back. You succeeded in the test of Lolth. House Xaniqos is blessed with yet another High Priestess. You make us proud!

Even Quarra realizes the importance and kisses her sister on the cheek, while lady Thandysha kisses the other.

This experience has taught you a lot. Wear this amulet to remind you of that and may Lolth bless you with her eternal wisdom. Go and rest. Next week there will be a party in your honor.

The siblings sleep well that night. When Lilith wakes up, she notices that the wounds on her arm changed into two circles, enclosed by eight smaller dots. It resembles a spider bite, encircled by spider legs.

 

 

Trouble in the Ghetto of the Dead

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The next couple of days are spent in relaxation. The Drow have brought home quite an impressive loot and each sibling is amply rewarded. Four days later, being healed, bathed, rested and fed, they are once more called towards the hall of House Xaniqos. The eldest daughter Quarra is also present, though she doesn’t look too happy. Matron Mother Thandysha and her consort Taldinyon make an exotic pair. To their surprise, Thangarth and a group of Duergar are there too, the Draegloth at their side. His big scythe is still covered in blood. It seems like the company didn’t have an easy journey traveling to the Xaniqos mansion.

Artwork: SLefor

Lady Thandysha welcomes all and tells her children that the Duergar emissaries have been invited to establish a trade between the two parties. And since the four had a part in bringing about the contact, they are welcome to participate in the negotiations. The Duergar will stay in the city for one week. An agreement is reached about buying mithril for creating weapons and other items. When Phaedra replies in Duergar, the Draegloth seems pleasantly surprised. They talk a bit and he tells her she can find him in The Black Chalice if she ever needs him.

We won’t be staying there, we will find a place of our own!

Thangarth says. He doesn’t seem too eager to lodge in a place owned by a vampire, where undead frequent and narcotics are abound. The Xaniqos Scout advises him to try out the Knuckle Bones Inn – many guards and owned by a dwarf – or Teeson’s Roaming House. This facility seems to shift around a lot, which makes it an interesting place, but more dangerous. The latter seems to appeal to the Duergar’s sense of excitement and there might even be a bunch of kobolds to lighten up the place.

The Matron Mother looks at Phaedra, a disgusted expression on her face.

You speak that vile language?

Well, it’s useful for the trading relation, right?

Phaedra retorts.

The days, during which Lilith orders her Wizard brother to make more anti-toxins, go by quietly. After a full tenday K’yorl asks them to follow him into his study. They head up towards the large tower room, which is packed with alchemy sets, books and vials. They are filled with eye balls, powders, feathers and all kinds of other stuff. A neat personal collection, according to Jharrath.

Please, take a seat. House Xaniqos needs your assistance in a new task. It’s only a week before the Council meets again. And though we have dealt a good blow against House Shi’quos, they are on the move again. They seem to be in alliance with the Dod King and try to expand by taking over the Ghetto of the Dead. Rumors are that here is a group under the city, ruled by three principles. The entrance to this Undercity is guarded by at least one ogre, maybe more. House Eilservs is weak. The undead are not under control anymore, ghouls attack at random and other forces are moving up.

Will House Eilservs be punished for letting the Ghetto go out of control?

Be assured that the House indeed will be ‘entertained’ elsewhere, Jharrath.

The siblings agree to meet at The Black Chalice.

About an unconscious Drow and fighting quaggoths

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As both Drow try to fight off the effects of the bolts’ substance, Phaedra hears breaking noises on either side of them. She grabs an object and throws it towards the sounds on her right. The stone – for that was it – instantly radiates a purple light that blinds everything in a ten feet area. In the glow the Scout sees a male Drow in a spider kit hanging near the top of a stalagmite. Growling fills the air. Something else is bothered by the light. Lilith fights off the effect of the poison and manages to focus again: the beasts are quaggoths! Savage warlike monstrous humanoids who will berserk at the slightest provocation. And three of them! The Cleric gathers her breath and emits a mournful wail, sending out a pulse of magic imbued with sorrow and sadness. Of the three, one seems to be blinded by the aftereffects of the purple light as he stumbles straight into the stalagmite, another is affected by the wave of grief and simply stands there. The last one charges full at Alvra, while Jharrath slowly topples to the ground, surrendering to a deep darkness.

Quaggoth

The quaggoth’s claws miss the Fighter, and Alvra returns the favor by hitting the beast with his sword. Jhael’min moves to the other side of the road to get a better view of the fight. He seems to be content observing rather than participating. For now. More crossbow bolts come flying from the darkness. Lilith collects another dose of the Drow knockout poison, but again manages to shake off the effect. She knows that this poison works very fast and very effective. Her sister is hit as well and takes a potion. The cleric attacks the humanoid and lays her hands on the creature. Instantly its fur crackles and blisters, the beast seriously wounded. A slash of the fighter’s sword ends its life. The other quaggoths try to come to the aid of their comrade and claws rake deep into Lilith’s armor. She notices that the skin of the creature is white, apparently the fur is painted. The other is still blinded and its attacks are uncontrolled.

Suddenly the area where the scout was turns pitch black. And not a moment too soon. Phaedra hears footsteps coming her way and sees a dagger hurtling towards her. Though perfectly aimed, it misses because of the darkness. Well, it doesn’t miss entirely, according to the growls of one of the remaining quaggoths. Lilith sees how a beautiful dagger embeds itself in the creature’s body. No complaint on her side, she takes advantage of all the help she can get, even if given by their opponent. She tries to strike fear in the heart of the quaggoth, but in its frenzied state it is not affected at all. The humanoid tries to reach and bite her, but somehow overreaches and misses. Lilith immediately strikes with her flail and hits. The other quaggoth joins in the fight, but – still blinded – is not of much use. Neither is the wizard, who sleeps through it all.

Ambush

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Alvra carries the strongbox back down to the corridor, and does the same with his dead mount’s saddle and bridle. Phaedra points out it would be suspicious if a dead riding lizard was found in this cave. Combined with the missing Cloak of the Consort, it might lead straight to House Xaniqos. They decide to burn it all: the crates, bedding, araneas and the riding lizard. An incendiary slime spell in combination with a fire ball does the trick. An enormous explosion rocks the stone, and when the Wizard climbs back up to check out the area, all is scorched black. A mass of organic and inorganic stuff remains, reasonably unrecognizable. Satisfied, the Drow follow the corridor, the younger sister scouting ahead. She finds herself in a cave with ladders and ropes, leading up to a platform with a small pool of pure drink water. This might come in handy for future travels. They fill up their water bottles. Since it is a dead end, they retrace their steps and take the long and arduous route back. A lot of climbing and hoisting needs to be done and it takes them at least two hours to reach the spider carcasses again.

At the bottom of the slope that leads down from the cave entrance, the scene is unaltered. Or is it? When Lilith takes a closer look, she sees that one of the hobgoblin bodies has been turned over: someone has been here. Fresh bear tracks lead back the way they came from, but all seems quiet for now. After about an hour the siblings come upon a crossroads. The bear imprints lead to the right, but their city is straight on. The Cleric sees no point in following the tracks any further and takes the road towards Erelhei-Cinlu. To their right and left are paths filled with stalagmites, while high cliffs frame the way forward. Then the Scout spots a male Drow standing on a small rock at the side of the road. He’s seems to be nonchalantly waiting for them, his hands at a safe distance from his expensive looking rapier and dagger. The male is wearing a costly outfit and his whole demeanor radiates supreme confidence.

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Greetings, I want you to lay down your weapons and hand over the cloak that you stole.

The adventurers immediately stand still, assessing the situation.

Please lay down your weapons, I will not ask again.

When Lilith asks for his name, he responds with

My name is Jhael’min Shi’quos.

Of course that does ring a bell. House Shi’quos, the Fourth house of Erelhei-Cinlu. And member of the House of the captive Drow whose throat Phaedra slit. The Scout, in a high state of alertness, hears a soft snort to the right. They might have caught up with the owners of the bear tracks. The male Drow, seeing the family crest on Lilith piwafwi, exclaims:

You are of House Xaniqos? That cloak belongs to our family!

Such a devious Matron Mother, the Cleric muses, she indeed never said anything about our House owning it or being entitled to it! Lilith keeps on talking, since the Drow seems genuine in wanting to let them pass, and throws her diplomacy skills in the game.

We know we took something that most likely doesn’t belong to us, but you must understand that we can not go back to our Matron Mother without it.

I’m sorry you feel that way,

Jhael’min says, whereupon both the Wizard and the Cleric feel the impact of a crossbow bolt. Slowly the world fades…

Cloak of the Consort

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By now the Scout has arrived at the top of the ladder and tumbles past the attacking araneas. They try to bite and spit at her, but she manages to dodge the attacks. Her spike chain is ready. Alvra and his lizard appear at the entrance of the room, attacking, while his brother is still climbing. Lilith, still waiting for an opportunity to climb up, speaks the command word which unleashes the spider that is magically bound to her shield. It animates, and a fiendish spider joins in the attack. When Jharrath makes his way towards the top, the Cleric is finally able to climb up too, following her spider.

Both Drow and lizard are engaged in a fierce fight with the araneas. The araneas, unable to use their magical abilities in close combat slash, lash out, bite and spit, and finally Phaedra manages to kill one of the spider-beasts. Alvra is less fortunate and misses repeatedly. The Scout takes advantage of the distraction, makes a flanking move and green blood spurts all around: the third aranea is down too.

While she investigates the room, a male Drow, dressed in very noble clothes, descends the stairway. His chainshirt emanates a soft glow, then red then blue. He is wearing the insignia of House Godeep. It is very hard to focus on the dark elf. Meanwhile Jharrath is on top of the ladder, ready to cast a spell that calls forth his elementals, while the Cleric makes her way up too.

The Drow, gesturing with his hands, commands Alvra

Go away. Go back!

but the Fighter’s will is too strong, he stays put. This instantly enrages the unknown Drow. An incredibly loud shout echoes through the cave. The Wizard recognizes it as a hostile spell and summons his monsters into the scene. The ear-splitting yell proves too much for the riding lizard of Alvra, which dies of sonic damage. They all are damaged and deaf by this evocation, except Lilith and her spider, who are still in the shaft. Though Jharrath’s elementals attack the Drow, they can’t seem to hit him – each time he is slightly out of place. A displacement spell?

Arriving at the platform, Lilith sends forth her spider, but it can’t bite through the Drow’s armor. The Xaniqos attack, but both the spiked chain and the javelins bounce off a sort of invisible shield. An earth elemental manages to breach the defenses, after which a Kellgore’s firebolt delivers further damage, but only a little. Something seems to temper the pain. A Melf’s acid arrow comes buzzing back towards the Wizard, after which, under attack by the earth elementals and Lilith’s spider, the Drow disappears from view. Phaedra tracks him up the stairs. She sees a large cave, filled with more boxes and crates. It looks like a lair. The cave is floodlit. Alvra also walks up the stairs, sword in hand, while Jharrath – still suffering from the acid arrow – first casts mage armor on himself and then sends his elementals in pursuit.

The fiendish spider manages to bite the Drow, but the male discharges a bolt of electricity at the creature and it gets killed. It immediately transforms into a buckler, once again on Lilith’s arm. The Cleric has made it to the stairs and starts moving upwards. Already at the top, Phaedra throws an exploding object at the male Drow’s feet, but he doesn’t seem to be affected by it. He counterattacks by taking out a wand and sends two rays of pure fire at his opponents, missing Phaedra, but hitting one of the earth elementals. The Fighter sees his chance, runs up and aims his javelin at the Drow.

Lilith sees her Wizard brother halfway up the stairs; he looks awful. To keep him on his feet, she extends a faith healing towards him. Feeling better, he goes forward and aims a spell of clumsiness at the male. But the Drow has spell ready: again he opens his mouth and releases another horrible yell. The earth elemental, grabbing the opportunity, immediately attacks and succeeds in hurting its target, but the damage is done: Alvra, Phaedra and both earth elementals are deaf. the wizard seems to be less affected. Unlike his siblings no blood is dripping out of his ears.

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Finally arriving at the top of the stairs too, the Cleric dispells the Drow’s magic protection, until only his shield remains. Alvra wants to charge, but is obstructed by one of the elementals. He walks around it and hits the now more vulnerable Drow. The earth elementals join in, as well as Phaedra. Lilith suddenly grows eight tentacles, feeling Yochlol’s blessing, but before she can get her tentacles on the male, Alvra kills him in a ferocious attack. Under their very eyes, the corpse of the Drow changes into an aranea. It was a shapeshifter!

The Scout searches the lair and finds magical bracers, a ring, wand, two healing potions and a lesser restoration potion. There is also a key. She throws the wand at Jharrath and then uses the key to open a strongbox. Inside are two thousand gold pieces, ten garnets – worth hundred gold pieces each – and a golden vial with a ruby stop. But on top of those is a cloak. It shimmers and glistens, reflecting light and colors. By its aura she feels this might be the object they were searching for! Worn by a male, this artifact’s effect must be overwhelming. Lilith claims the cloak from the hands of her sister, their mission accomplished.