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.
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.
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!
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!
The crowd goes absolutely berserk, and under a massive applause, the drow are escorted from the arena.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
After weeks of traveling, the walls of Erelhei-Cinlu, skilfully lighted with the purple glow of fungi, are a welcome sight. Eager to get home and leave the hardships of their travels behind, they stride towards the bridge.
The streets are filled with Tormtor drow. At the gate, they are welcomed -or more accurate- halted by a cleric of House Despana. Marcella Despana seems shocked to see the Xaniqos alive and well, tries to hide her astonishment behind a sneering smile and says:
Look who we have here. I’m amazed you dare to show your face after all the other parties have been butchered!
What are you implying, Marcella? How dare you blame us for the incompetence of your own soldiers. Move!
Lilith furiously retorts. She pushes her way forward, and grudgingly the Despana priestess steps aside.
There are exceedingly many patrols in the city and as they work their way towards the Xaniqos estate, again they are halted. This time it is a captain of their own house, though unfamiliar.
is his reaction when they tell him they are the lost searching party of House Xaniqos. Phaedra whacks the soldier over the head because of this impertinence.
What is your name, male?
Well, Ninfór, I am Lilith, high priestess of House Xaniqos, and I am ordering you to get out of the way!
If looks could kill, the drow would have turned to ashes. The captain reassesses the situation, and now notices the battle scars and the travel dust. His tone of voice changes into one of respect.
May we accompany you, Mistress Lilith?
Yes, but keep your distance.
The Xaniqos cleric’s patience is wearing very thin. They walk in silence for a while, when the captain respectfully coughs.
Pardon me, but you are walking the wrong way, Mistress. The noble estates have all been abandoned because of what has happened. Every house is on edge. The Matron Mother decided to move back to our District.
The siblings continue into the district under Xaniqos command: the District of the Outcasts. They walk past groups of foreigners and beggars and pass various inns. Finally, they arrive at a grand and beautiful estate of two stories high. The drow who are guarding the entrance to the courtyard, are also strangers. A lot has changed during the month they were gone. Lots of new blood; House Xaniqos must be doing well.
In the courtyard, the familiar statue of Lolth is going through its never-ending cycle of transition from drow to spider and back. One of the guards leads them up a big staircase and asks them to wait. A couple of minutes later their House wizard descends, a glimpse of a smile on his face. He must be really pleased to see them!
K’yorl, it is good to finally see a familiar face!
And I am glad to see you all in good health, mistress Lilith. It has been a while. Lady Thandysha will be back later tonight. Do you want to freshen up in the meantime, eat and rest?
When Lilith inquires after the new recruits, the wizard explains that House Xaniqos has expanded, taking over several smaller houses that owed them allegiance, bolstering their ranks.
Servants escort the siblings to separate bathhouses. Somewhat later they reappear, dressed in soft house robes. Laergath is nowhere to be seen. In the kitchen, all thoughts of travel rations disappear with a second serving. After dinner, the cleric asks a servant to take care of her armor and then proceeds to the chapel, where she prays to Lolth. Upstairs, Jharrath inspects his room, which is next to the room of Alvra. All of their equipment and furniture seems to be intact.
At the end of the day, the long-awaited call comes. The four adventurers are expected in the reception room. The Matron Mother is sitting on a small platform at the head of the table, two minotaurs as her bodyguard. Lilith takes a seat next to her mother, flanked by Phaedra.
It is good to be back, Mother.
And it is good to see you again, I hope you have good news!
the lady Thandysha replies in private. Then a new voice joins their conversation.
Ah Lilith, there you are. Welcome back. I am very curious to hear why you have been gone so long!
Quarra -the only one in battle armor and flail in hand- takes the opposite seat. K’yorl, Alvra and Jharrath also join them.
The authoritarian voice of Lady Thandysha booms through the throne room.
Now tell us all about what happened to you these last few weeks.
Lilith starts with the bad news: they haven’t been able to retrieve the rod Dark Fate. Quarra snorts, but Lilith ignores her and continues with her story. The betrayal of Amalika, the discovery of the killers of House Tormtor and their punishment, the Hidden Dell, and the blaspheming drow in Sith Morcane. The Matron Mother is not happy to hear that the rod has not been found.
House Despana is acting very arrogant towards House Xaniqos. After finding the bodies of the large search party of house Tormtor, a few claim that House Xaniqos has been involved in the murder.
Many council members distrust each other, worrying the other house might have acquired the rod for personal gain. There have not been direct accusations yet, but several imply House Xaniqos is to blame. We have to think well about our next step.
Thank you, Lilith. Notwithstanding your failure, you managed to return. A feat that the other houses did not accomplish. And though you did not find the rod, you again managed to deliver a blow to House Shi’quos.
The cleric nods at Phaedra, Alvra and Jharrath.
Well, I could have had worse travel companions.
Quarra, realizing that things have taken a positive turn for her sister and her party yet again, seethes with anger. With clenched teeth she says:
I am glad you made it back to further enhance the glory of House Xaniqos.
With a straight face, Lilith asks Quarra if she can think of more ideas that can help their House, but the elder sister has to ponder on that.
Lady Thandysha ends the dinner gathering:
Take a reverie and return to me in a couple of days. Make sure you wear your armor. I’ll send for you once I have taken your news into consideration. I will call for a council meeting. You may go out in the city, but don’t go out alone. Be careful. The rod was not where it was supposed to be. Somebody else took it, or it was never there!
Tell me, which one will it be? One of the Lizardfolk? Or rather a Bugbear?
Image: Geeks Are Sexy