At the waterhole

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The next day, Phaedra leads her brothers to a waterhole north of Erelhei-Cinlu. It is a place where caravans stop on their trek through the Underdark. The drow need to find out where and how the worm can be found.

Several caravans are camping there, but not as many as usual. The scout searches for the merchants among them and she picks out a group of poorer looking goblinoids. Their almost purple skin identifies them as Vril, the product of dark elf wizards’ experiments on goblins over many generations. Some are busy eating, others are fighting.

Vril

Phaedra goes to the barkeeper, buys a brew and sits down at a table. The goblinoids are frightened by her presence and half of them get up.

“Sit!” She takes a sip. “I’m surprised your caravan made it.”

“Our caravan didn’t make it: we’re the only guards left. Two days ago we were ambushed by a harpy and her gang of tree-like creatures. On a normal trade route just north of the city!”

The drow nods and continues. “Have you heard anything about a purple worm?”

The vril replies: “There’s a bounty for killing it! We are looking for work, and we were told that we should hunt this worm. But we don’t want to.”

“And who asked you?”

“Those orogs over there. They want to bully us into it.”

Phaedra looks up and sees a group of twelve orogs, a mixed species between orc and ogre. Fierce warriors and the best fighting slaves one can hire. The majority is watching a fight. One of them is wearing a magical enhanced full plate. Phaedra signals to Jharrath, who walks towards the provisional ring.

After carefully observing the contestants, he asks “What are the odds?”

“3 : 1 for the small guy over there. Why, do you want to place a bet?”

The Xaniqos wizard puts 15 GP on the small competitor and soon after all bets are off. It is a fight to the death and the crowd is in a frenzy. The orogs circle each other warily. The big one confident, the other feigns fright. Then in a flash, the smaller one pulls out a dagger and sticks it in his opponent’s eye. The big brute collapses and the audience roars. The mood is right and the drinks are plenty.

When Jharrath goes to collect his money, the organizer tries to swindle him. After a bit of negotiating, he still receives most of his money, and then makes his way to the orog in full plate, who seems to be the leader of the group.

“That was a nice fight!”

The orog nods. “Dere strong fighters in my group, yous will find no bettar!”

“Would you happen to know where to find a purple worm?”

“Dere is one three days from here. We have to kill da beastie and take back da stinger. There’s a reward of 10.000 GP; with that kind of gold, I can equip my men betta. Why yous want to no?” The orog regards Jharrath suspiciously

“Well, perhaps we could work together. We also need those glands.”

The orog grimaces. “Are yous able to do da?”

“Let’s say I have my connections.”

“Ow much yous wanna no?”

“How about 2.000 gold pieces?” the wizard offers.

“Yous make it 5.000, and da map is yours. It shows da place where the worm was seen. Give me da gold and no one will botha yous.”

org

Jharrath gives Phaedra a sign, and they return to Alvra. “5.000 GP is too much,” Phaedra says. “Make it 4.000, and add the option for future activities for House Xaniqos.” Alvra has another idea. “Just let them do the job, and then ambush them on their way back. When are they planning to leave?”

Phaedra heads back to the vril to find out, while the drow fighter now joins the orogs. He listens to their boasting and asks after their plans.

“We are going to defeat a huge worm and earn us 5.000 gold, promised by one of the pointy ear Houses. Da vrils are going with us!”

“Aha,” Alvra says, “and how are you going to do that?”

“We’ll use the purple ones as fodder, and then we’ll do some hacking and slashing.”

Alvra grins. “With all the partying going on here, you’re not leaving any time soon, right?”

The orog shrugs. “We’ll party tonight and leave in the morning.”

“Will you be able to get the vrils to join?”

“Psah, they gonna!”

“Why don’t you bind one to a pole in the ground?” Alvra suggests. “Break a leg and he’ll moan nice and loud, and lure the worm towards you.”

“Watta good plan!” The orog looks at the drow approvingly. “Yous wanna come along?”

Alvra claps him on the back. “Happy hunting!” and with these words, the drow heads back to his siblings. Together they return home to consult with their mistress.

Lilith talks to the Matron Mother about the things her siblings have learned at the waterhole. Lady Thandysha doesn’t want them to go and fight a purple worm. That beast isn’t worth the lives of four nobles! The cleric discusses the best course of action with Alvra. They will go back together and try to overbid the orogs, so they fight the worm and give the glands to house Xaniqos.

At the waterhole, Lilith is pleasantly surprised by the fighting spirit of the orogs. Together, the drow advance on the leader. Alvra is showing off his muscles, while Lilith offers the orog double the bounty that the other House has offered if they will give the glands to House Xaniqos.

“Da may all be fine an all, but who protect da orogs against da other Houses?”

“We will. And I train the fighters of our House,” Alvra replies.

“Then yous fight me. If yous win, we agreel!”

“And what are the rules? I just saw another fight and I wouldn’t want your group to go leaderless.”

“Haha fighta funny! Well, me don’t want your House without strong fighta eitha. Hows about we fight till we bleed?”

They walk to an open area, and soon are surrounded by orogs and vril. The orog leader has a massive two-handed sword and in his mind, he’s already won. But he hasn’t taken into account the agility of the drow! Alvra is the first to react and with a well-aimed thrust, he sticks his sword into the leader’s side. The audience greets this defeat with boos and hisses.

The orog grunts loudly and has to control his anger. “Fight is over, you fast for a fighta. Very fast! We have a deal.”

“We will meet again, at this place, when you have the glands,” the cleric replies.

A change of positions

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When they arrive at the mansion, Leargath goes his own way, while the siblings carry the body of the warlock inside. Immediately drow slaves take it to the morgue. After a while, they are invited to the throne room, where lady Thandysha seems to be in a positive mood. All the important people of House Xaniqos are present.

“Good to see you. I presume your mission was a success?” As always the Matron Mother doesn’t leave much room for failure.

“Yes, Mother. House Despana was behind the abduction of our captain. They wanted information about the rod, as well as punish us. And though we managed to save Solaufein, he is in no condition to secure our House. We brought back the warlord’s body though, it is at your disposal at the morgue.” Lilith and Phaedra continue to relate the happenings of the last day.

At that moment Alvra steps up and makes his ambitions clear. “Make me captain of the guard! I will take Solaufein’s position.”

Alvra
Quarra snorts indignantly but holds her tongue.
“Alvra, that is a bold statement,” the Matron Mother says. “The captain of the guard is also my personal guard. It is a high position. What do your siblings think about your proposal?” She turns towards Lilith. “Is he qualified?”

The cleric assesses the fighter, then nods. A simple yes is her reply.
“I have only seen his group activities, and he knows his position.” Phaedra shrugs. Jharrath doesn’t object either. “He’s up to the task. But I’d love to hear what Quarra thinks of this.”
“Well thank you, Jharrath”, an overly polite Quarra replies. “You all seem to back up Alvra. And if Lilith says he’s able, then, by all means, Mother, we must give him our support too.”
Lady Thandysha briefly glances at her consort, who nods approvingly.

“Since everybody is here, it is settled now. Welcome, Alvra, as the new captain of the guard of House Xaniqos. Thaldinyon will fill you in. We will meet each other in a few hours, and talk about how we deal with House Despana. Its actions can not be tolerated!”

The mansion is bigger and more luxurious than their former residence, and so are their rooms. After a visit to the House clerics for healing, the men leave for the bathhouse, where they lazily float in the water. Alas, their peace doesn’t last very long, for Phaedra comes to get them on her sister’s behalf. “We must meet her at the chapel,” she says, “that’s all I know.”

Lilith is in the chapel, worshiping the Spider Queen. When she hears their footsteps, she turns around and welcomes her siblings. “Tell me, Alvra. What are your plans as the new captain of the guard?” The fighter plans to expand the number of guards. He also plans to use the lizard mounts more. The cleric is pleased to hear that. She gathers her sister and brothers and heals them all. Back in their rooms, Jharrath identifies the cloak as a magical cloak of charisma. This lightweight and fashionable cloak has a highly decorative silver trim. Lilith keeps it for herself; the mithril shirt goes to Phaedra.

It is already late when they are summoned to the Matron Mother’s room. Lady Thandysha is seated at the head of the table. Quarra and K’yorl are seated in their usual chairs, but Alvra’s seat has been upgraded.

“Welcome all. It is time for our House to step forward and take our rightful place. We will not be the last House any longer. We have grown in power, we have many soldiers and slaves. We have risen in prestige, and will now measure ourselves in strength as well. The rod causes a lot of unrest. Despana doesn’t have it, and neither have we. The rod will cause a shift in power. She who has the rod has the upper hand.

Phaedra, I hope you will aid our House with your skills. House Despana is the perfect prey. We will have to take away their assets in the city. We need to know what happens at the Ghetto of Savages. Who are our allies, how are the political relations in the city? House Vae is engaged in a surface war. House Aleval is running a covert war.

Furthermore, there is a shortage of certain ingredients in our household. You will have to get them for me at Potions & Poisons, located in the Ghetto of Artisans. Start your investigations in the morning.“ Lady Thandysha hands her daughter a scroll with ingredients and a bag of gems, worth 15.000 GP. “Go to the shop, Lilith. Mind you, he is the best poison maker in town, but something is wrong with his mind.” The scroll reads:

  • knockout poison 20x
  • dark ore 1x
  • poison virile madness 1x
  • sick stones 20x

Laboratory

The Potions & Poisons is located in the same street as Nyttoris Arms & Armor. The detached building at the end of the street in the Ghetto of Artisans appears to be closed, everything is shut, but when Lilith tries the door, it opens. She and Jharrath step inside. The interior resembles a laboratory. There is stuff bubbling everywhere, and the smell is very heavy, very chemical. On the top floor, lots of adamantine spider constructs are moving around. In the back of the room is a very large, very real spider. The beast takes up more than half of the space.

Someone is working at an alchemy table: a man, dressed in black and wearing green armor. One look and you know that he is evil through and through… and crazy as a bat.

Arachnomancer

“Xu’klir, we have guests!” he says to the monstrous spider. Poisonmaker Lha’zis Ulvira resembles a spider himself. When Lilith tells him what they need, the arachnomancer complains about his stocks. “We are running low on supplies and I don’t have all the things you need. You see, there are problems with deliveries by the caravans. They have not arrived from Maerimydra yet, and none of the investigating parties have returned.”

“Do we get a discount if we help you?”, Jharrath haggles. “You’ll only need to pay for the poison of virile madness if you can get me a sack of blood moss. But be careful not to add fire to it. The blood moss can be found to the southwest of Erelhei-Cinlu, about two days of travel. I also need the poison glands of a purple worm.”

“And where might we find one?”

“No one knows for sure, but there are rumors that one has been sighted to the northwest of here.”

And with that news, Lilith and Jharrath return home.

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.

180215Arenda

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.

180215EE

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!

180215Ghour

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!

180215Searing

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.”

180214svirfneblin.jpg

“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.”

180214Quaggoth

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.

The Temple of Blessed Seahaven

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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.

171115lake

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.

171115kua

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.