Investigating

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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.

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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.

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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!”

Where is the Captain of the Guard?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.”

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“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.”

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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.

Battle Axe Black

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Back home, Jharrath gorges himself until bursting and then eats some more. A scolding hot bath makes him feel almost as good as new. Almost… Somehow he feels changed.
The next morning finds House Xaniqos in turmoil. All siblings are called towards a meeting in the throne room.

“Welcome back!” Lady Thandysha almost purrs. “I have found a worthy task for you, to show the strength of our House and to deal a blow to our enemies. Tomorrow morning you will go to the Arena in the Ghetto of the Savages, and sign up for the fights. It should be an interesting program. An important noble of House Despana wants to prove himself, and –if you all provoke him enough with your display of strength– he will appear in the Arena in person. Destroy him. House Despana may be able to change the rules, but they have to let you go once you’re victorious.”

As an afterthought, she adds: “And siblings? Do NOT fail me! Lolth is watching and testing you. Do well, and your status could improve within our House. I will see you tomorrow at the arena.”

Taldinyon takes Alvra aside. “I’m watching you closely. If you truly are the future of this House, you could be a weapon master yourself.”
Meanwhile, Jharrath has a likewise conversation with the house wizard. “I’m looking forward to your tricks tomorrow, and I do hope you will show more than the average magician.” The rivals look each other in the eye. “Oh, you can be assured of that, K’yorl.”
As they are about to leave, Quarra saunters towards her younger sister and wishes her good luck, in the open! Surprised, Lilith nods her head in appreciation. “Thank you, sister!” The whole house seems uncharacteristically united in their support of the adventurers.

With the good wishes and warnings still fresh on their minds, the next morning the four drow walk towards the Ghetto of the Savages. The rest of their House will arrive later. Well armed drow patrol the district. There are troglodytes and trolls —some of which approach them for work— and many goblins.

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In front of the Arena is a large inn, with loud music pouring from the entrance. A duergar is holding a mixed crowd enthralled with this story. “In the Old Battle Axe”, a sign over his head says. A battered axe emphasizes the inn’s name. The place is run by a female bugbear and her two sons.

When the Xaniqos enter, the proprietor bids them welcome and asks what they’d like to drink.
“Water please,” Phaedra says. Lilith echoes her sister’s order.
The bugbear almost chokes. “Water?!” she mutters, “I have never heard such a peculiar request. How about you, gentlemen. Can I get you something stronger? We have Elf Blood; we serve a tasty Chieftain’s brew, and a nice strong Battle Axe Black!” She orders her sons to clear a table. Within seconds the bugbears start tossing dwarfs, goblins, and even a bugbear to the side. When the Xaniqos take their seats, the innkeeper returns with the drinks.

Jharrath takes a sip of his drink. The Elf Blood is bright red and even looks like blood. And though it appears to be wine, there’s a hint of iron to it.

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The bugbears both stare at Alvra. “A Battle Axe Black! You are strong, we are impressed! The drow fighter raises the mug warm, bubbling beer to his mouth and, ignoring the foul smell, takes a firm sip. The super strong ‘beer’ carves a trail of fierceness down his throat, and his heart is pounding in his ears. Alvra spits out the remaining liquid, sputtering and gasping for air. “Humph, we thought you were stronger.” Disappointed, the two bugbears turn away. The drow quickly empties the mug over his shoulder and slams it on the table. Perhaps drinking wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Meanwhile, the duergar continues his Arena stories, and the drow listen, quietly observing the customers. It is almost time.

Resurrected!

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Carrying their dead brother’s body and his belongings, the Xaniqos return home to Erelhei-Cinlu. The streets are swarming with Tormtor and Despana fighters, who guard the grand drow city, but none dare to stop the siblings. When they arrive at the mansion, Lilith orders the servants to take the wizard into the mausoleum and clean him up. She hopes the good news about the completed mission will balance Jharrath’s death: House Xaniqos is allowed to pick a portal in Looblishar!

They get rid of their battle-stained gear, freshen up and go downstairs to join their family for dinner. Lady Thandysha is present, as are Solafein, captain of the guard, and the house wizard K’yorl.

“I hope your brother has a good reason for not joining us?”
“He has indeed, Mother, he died,” Lilith replies.
Lady Thandysha nods. “I know, rumor is that the body of a noble has been carried into our estate”.
“And he smelled fishy!” Quarra snorts.
“And still we managed to free Blessed Seahaven of the vampire, so the trade commences once again!” Lilith’s words smoothly wipe the smug expression off her eldest sister’s face.

“Make sure the kua-toas take back the control over their village. The trade will be profitable enough to pay for Jharrath”s resurrection. I will lead the ritual myself in the temple of Erelhei-Cinlu, three days from now,” the Matron Mother says. “Until then you are free to do as you please.”

The siblings visit Nyttoris at the Arms & Armor and sell their loot. Lilith returns to her quarters, and finds a vestment of ebonsilk waiting for her. The beautiful magical garment is adorned with a large spider, and when the time of the resurrection has come, she wears it proudly.

When Phaedra and Lilith arrive at the temple, the Matron Mother is already there -as always dressed in finery- while Quarra is in full battle gear. Two more priestesses join, but no males are allowed inside. Alvra has to wait outside, together with Taldinyon and the guards.

The wizard’s body is gently placed upon the altar. Lady Thandysha sprinkles diamond dust as she circles the altar, working herself into a trance. She sends her prayers to Lolth and casts the resurrection spell.

A connection with the divine world opens up and Jharrath feels the telepathic link. He hears the voice of the Matron Mother, asking – no, demanding in a strong voice that he is to return to the world of the living. The wizard complies wholeheartedly. With hardly any resistance Jharrath is allowed to leave the plane of the dead and return to his body.

“Well, that was invigorating!” Jharrath is about to swing his legs over the side of the altar when he hears a raspy dark voice and is forcefully pushed back. A tentacled blob of melted wax appears, with eyes moving across the head. The filthy, writhing, oozing mass emits a foul stench. House Xaniqos is honored by a visit of a Yochlol, a handmaiden of Lolth!

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The wizard stares in awe, beads of sweat on his brow from the exertion of the resurrection.

In a melodious voice, the handmaiden tells them that Lolth is proud of House Xaniqos, though they have never been really tested yet.
“Lolth grants your wish to bring this male back to life, but he had better be useful. In ten days, the Spider Queen expects a sacrifice, worthy of her respect. Do not displease her!”
“This altar will be dressed in the blood of our enemies,” Jharrath humbly replies.
Then the form is gone.

Lady Thandysha is ecstatic. “Today will be remembered as the glorious day that House Xaniqos was contacted by Lolth. This is fantastic: our House is rising, the Spider Queen is pleased with us!”
“Thank you, Matron Mother, for bringing me back. I will make you proud, I will make sure House Xaniqos is on the rise.”
“I never expected differently, my son.” Lady Thandysha traces his chin with her sharp nails, and a single drop of blood wells up. Jharrath swallows, and -after donning a spare robe from the temple- follows the six female drow.

Alvra, who has been guarding the temple doors, steps aside when Lady Thandysha appears in the door opening. She is practically beaming, and even Quarra seems happier than usual. They are followed closely by Lilith, Phaedra, and the two clerics. Somewhat later the wizard steps outside.
“Welcome back, brother. It seems you belong to the land of the living once again.” Jharrath’s grin says enough.

“Children, meet me tomorrow. I have an idea. From this day on, we will rise. We will not be the eighth house anymore.”

And with these words, the Matron Mother leads the way home.

Shark Attack!

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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!

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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!

171116shark

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!

171116sharkdead

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.

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.

 

Back home

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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.

Erelhei-Cinly

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.

Impostors!

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?

Ninfór, Mistress.

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.

Now what?!

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.

Kyorl

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.

Welcome, everyone.

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!