Vita est ludus
The thin line between fantasy and reality...













The City of the Spider Queen - Day 1 - Solom Ned'razak

Marpenoth 28, 1372 DR (7:00 PM) Szith Morcane: The Inverted Tower

"Are we done with this?" asks Igor. "I see nothing more to explore on this level. I'll inspect those doors up the shaft." He flies up and inspects each door in turn. Flying down, he rejoins his party. "No traps anywhere that I saw."

"Three doors, at different levels. Straight to the top, or work our way up?" asks Veracity.

"We should work our way up from the bottom," says Hazen.

"We should go straight to the top," says Igor.

"I agree with you, Igor," says Veracity.

"Oh, fine," grumbles Hazen.

Hazen, Kress, and Igor take off. Tebryn, Veracity, and Brianna run up the wall and start walking up the side of the well. "Wait!" calls out Yol. "Can I get a ride?" Kress flies down and scoops her up. "Thanks!"

At the top door, the fliers hover while those with slippers of spider climbing stand on the wall off to the side. As soon as Igor opens the door, a powerful gust of wind bursts out, driving all of the fliers against the far wall of the shaft, unable to make headway against it towards the door. The spider climbers, however, are not severely hampered by the magical effect and simply walk through the portal into the room, Veracity leading, followed by Brianna and Tebryn.

They see before them a fancy chamber. An impressive throne made of heavy-looking black metal, flanked by rich tapestries with abstract designs, looms on high dais across from the door. Two other doors are visible, one to each side.

On the throne sits a middle aged drow male. He is ruggedly handsome, but not especially muscular. He wears black trousers tucked into knee-high black leather boots, a billowing purple shirt unbuttoned halfway down, the sleeves of which are tucked into elaborate gold bracers, and a fine black cloak. His long white hair is held back by a fine gold headband and he wears a large gold hoop in his left ear. He smells of perfume and sandlewood incense.

He gazes at the arriving party with a not unfriendly expression on his face.

Veracity steps forward and raises her hand. "Peace," she says, in Drow.

"Well done," says the male drow, speaking the same language. "You have passed my little test and I am willing to parley with you."

Veracity smiles. "I am glad to hear that. My name is Veracity. I lead this group on its current mission."

"I am pleased to meet you, Veracity. I am Solom Ned'razak," says the drow, smiling in turn. He gazes appraisingly at her. "I have no love for the theocratic rulers of Szith Morcane, either the deposed priestesses of Lolth, or the recently arrived followers of Kiaransalee."

"Then, perhaps we can be of mutual assistance, as we seek to remove the followers of Kiaransalee from Szith Morcane and Maerimydra," suggests Veracity.

"Very possibly," responds Solom Ned'razak. "If you wouldn't mind, I would like to speak to you privately." He gestures back at the door. "If your followers could wait outside...?"

"Very well," says Veracity. She turns towards her companions. "Fine," says Tebryn before she can speak, raising his hands. Brianna smiles and shrugs. "See you soon," she says, in Drow. The two walk back out the door and wait just outside.

Solom watches as the two make their way out and turns back to Veracity as soon as he is alone with her. He looks at her holy symbol and arches his eyebrows as he raises his eyes back to her face. "Interesting," he says. "I hope I'm not being indelicate here, but, you seem a woman full of contradictions. Most elite drow of your sex become priestesses, as I'm sure you know - although certainly not of THAT deity. And yet, although you bear a holy symbol, you do not seem to be a divine spell caster. Could you tell me something of yourself, please?"

Veracity laughs. "One can be devoted to a deity without being a priestess. I have found a goddess who represents many of my interests and attitudes, and I wear her symbol with pride, even though, as you observe, I am not a divine caster. My magical talents so far have been arcane."

"Ah!" exclaims Solom. "That is good to hear. I have long thought that practitioners of arcane magic are inherently superior: they draw their power from within, rather than depending on greater beings to grant it to them. The weakness of the latter approach became very clear to the priestesses of Lolth when she went silent recently."

"You sound just like my brother," says Veracity. "He's made exactly the same argument regarding wizardly versus priestly magic. I think you'll enjoy talking to him."

"Was it he that I just sent out of the room?" asks Solom.

Veracity nods. "Yes. And that was my cohort that you sent away with him. The rest of my companions couldn't get past your magical ward."

Solom smiles. "I'll release them soon. I have some more things to discuss with you, first. I must say that I am pleased to find a compatible attitude toward the divine versus the arcane. Between you and me, I wouldn't mind at all if a ... different ... power structure were set up once the divine leaders of Szith Morcane and Maerimydra fall. I founded this school with an eye towards setting up something of the sort, eventually, if you get my drift."

Veracity smiles and nods slowly. Solom continues. "From what I've seen of your abilities down stairs, I have no doubt that your party is quite capable and should be able to defeat Dorina handily. I do have one last question before I release your companions. I am surprised that one of our race would travel with creatures of lesser races. How did this happen?"

Veracity ponders. "For me, it is all connected with why I use arcane magic instead of divine magic. As you observed, females of our race are almost exclusively priestesses. I, however, showed arcane talent from an early age and had to leave the society of our people while still young. I've spent almost my entire adult life dwelling on the surface."

"Ah ha!" says Solom. "No offense intended, but you are an outcast."

"Yes," says Veracity. "Obviously, I recognize the superiority of my own kind, but the surface dwellers are not without talent - and that talent can be used to good effect for my ends. As to how it is that my own companions have ended up in my party, well, you should ask them yourself."

"Indeed," says Solom. He gestures with his hand. "I have dismissed the wards and your companions are all free to enter this room."

"Come on in, guys," calls Veracity. Tebryn and Brianna step back into the room followed by the wind-battered fliers.

"Allow me to introduce my companions," says Veracity, switching to Common, for the benefit of the humans in her party. "This is Tebryn."

Solom gazes at Tebryn with interest. "Ah. You are Veracity's brother, I understand? I am Solom Ned'razak, the Archmage of Szith Morcane."

"Indeed?" exclaims Tebryn. "I am delighted to meet you! From what I understand, few are the arcane practitioners sufficiently focused on mastery of The Art to enter that class. I have similar aspirations myself."

"Ah," says Solom. "I look forward to conversing with you." He directs his gaze at Yol. "You are a divine caster." He looks at her holy symbol and frowns. "But, I do not recognize your symbol."

"I am Yol of Hel, the Goddess of Death," answers Yol. "Death and decay: the ultimate end of all things. What could be more important?"

"Hmm," says Solom. "No wonder I did not recognize the symbol. Hel is unknown here. What is her relation to Kiaransalee?"

Yol snorts. "Kiaransalee is a nothing, a minor deity of little power. She is not worth mentioning in the same breath as Hel, the one true goddess of death."

Solom chuckles. "Excellent. I was hoping you'd feel that way."

Yol looks at Solom with calculation. "I have another interest, as well. I also practice the arcane arts. There, too, I specialize in Death. The TRUE Necromancer must be master of both the Divine and Arcane."

Solom raises his eyebrows. "Very wise, Yol, to study arcana, as such powers will always be yours, even if you lose touch with your deity."

Yol stares at him. "That could never happen with Hel."

"Oh, I'm sure the Lolthians felt exactly the same way, Yol," comments Veracity.

"I was thinking the same thing, although I wouldn't have said it," murmurs Solom, as Yol glares at Veracity.

Solom turns his gaze to Hazen. "This is Hazen," volunteers Veracity. Solom speaks: "I must say that I haven't gotten along too well with you deep dwelling dwarves in the past, Hazen."

"That makes two of us," agrees Hazen. "They never really appreciated me, so I took to the surface." A distant expression comes to his face as he muses. "They just didn't understand my inquisitive nature."

Solom laughs. "So you, too, are an outcast from your own race. I can see that I had better keep my secrets triply arcane locked."

"Oh, no," responds Hazen cheerfully. "That isn't necessary. Or sufficient. Only triply locked?" He makes a rude sound.

"I travel with the short guy," volunteers Kress. "I'm Kress."

Solom starts. "I had forgotten that humans can talk," he says in Drow, eliciting a smirk from Veracity and Brianna, before continuing on Common. "A fitting companion for a duergar, Kress. Well met!"

Solom looks at Brianna and his brow wrinkles. "You seem ... other-worldly, somehow."

Brianna grins, showing her fangs. "Interestingly enough, Solom, I'm the only one in this party who's actually from THIS world."

Solom opens his mouth and lets out a sigh of recognition. "Ah hah. You are a tiefling. Very rare!"

"Well, down here they would be," says Brianna. "Not quite so rare on the surface."

Solom waves his hand impatiently. "Of course down here. Where else?"

"Or on other planes," continues Brianna. She nods towards Veracity. "Where I met her, for instance." She looks around at the rest of her party. "In fact, I think we represent at least three different worlds here. We're all planar travelers." She points at Igor. "He's from one world, I'm from another, and the rest are from yet a third."

"Indeed!" exclaims Solom. "Amazing!" He looks carefully at the other drow. "Yes ... I can see subtle differences between you and me."

Solom finally turns to Igor. "And, what is your story?"

Igor smiles at him. "I'm just content to travel around with my friends."

Solom looks at him quizzically. "Interesting collection of 'friends' you have."

Igor smiles again. "Keeps life interesting."

Solom nods. "It would." He looks at the ground, pondering, and then up. He gazes at Veracity. "So, Veracity. We are allies. What, exactly, does that mean to you?"

Veracity considers. "We both oppose Dorina and her fellow cultists. We were planning to set forth against her, in any case, and that furthers your aims, as well. I propose this: my party has been fighting and exploring all day, culminating in this meeting. I'd like for us to take a break until tomorrow. Tonight, you can provide us with lodgings, and help us plan our assault on Dorina. Where is she, what do you know about her defenses - and how do we get from Szith Morcane to Maerimydra, anyway? Although, we don't actually need the answer to that question until we've dealt with Dorina and her allies. I imagine we'll come back here after defeating her and spend a day recuperating, and identifying loot and such. You could tell us then. In any case, we can make plans tonight - and also spend time in arcane camaraderie, so to speak."

Solom smiles. "I agree. I can tell you a lot. And, if you care, I can commit to stopping the raids on the surface, once Dorina is gone."

Veracity waves her hand irritably. "Why should we care if you raid the surface dwellers? Although, we do know they are getting irritated, and if the raids don't stop, you can be sure they'll send other parties to harass you."

"I didn't think that Dorina's raids were important to you," comments Solom. "However, helping you is not without risk to me, of course, as I am sure that Dorina will be furious when she discovers what you've done already in Szith Morcane."

Veracity demurs. "Well, unless she scries us, I don't see how she'd trace us here. Even if she did come here, we are hardly defenseless - even after our day of battles."

"I am sure she can scry," says Solom. He thinks. "Ah - and I can easily activate the guards and wards spell again. I agree. We're hardly defenseless here, even were she to make a raid against us. Very well. I agree with your assessment of our alliance. Unfortunately, we are not really set up for lodging lots of visitors. We have a single vacant student's room, and an instructional room that I'd be happy to have set up for your lodging."

"Fine with me," says Veracity. "I'll stay in the student's room with my companion." She smiles at Brianna and squeezes her arm. "The rest of my party will happily stay in the group room, I'm sure." She looks around the rest of the party, and, one by one, each of her companions nods.

"Excellent!" says Solom. "Welcome to the Inverted Tower! So, what can I tell you?"

"I have a number of questions," responds Veracity. "One, perhaps, is just to satisfy my curiosity, but, perhaps it's important. We read a letter from somebody here in Szith Morcane to her cousin, a priestess of Lolth. The writer mentioned that if her cousin came to visit, she should not come openly as a Lolthian, as 'priestesses of Lolth have a new role in Szith Morcane which she'd not enjoy.' What is this 'new role'?"

Solom ponders. "They were all killed, I believe. However, some were raised again as quth-marens. You may have seen them? Undead creatures, flensed of skin and fat?"

"Ick!" says Veracity. "Those were the priestesses? How degrading!"

"It is fitting, as they were followers of an inferior goddess," comments Yol. "They have passed into Death, as all do in the end, and were raised into Undeath to remind us of the ultimate fate of all."

Veracity rolls her eyes. "Uh huh." Turning back to Solom, she continues her queries. "What do you know about Dorina?"

"Hmm," says Solom. "Priestess of Kiaransalee. A vampire, I believe. She's in charge, but has a group of her still-living relatives to assist her."

"I was a vampire once," says Hazen. "But, I got better. It's a tough life!"

Solom looks at him coldly and turns to Veracity. "Your pet is intrusive."

Veracity smirks. "Ignore him," she says in Drow. Continuing in Common, she asks, "What is the layout of Szith Morcane? Where will we find Dorina?"

"In the center of the Web is the Bazaar level," says Solom. "Below that, ..."

"Dorina is bizarre, so she'd be in the bizarre level, don't you think?" interrupts Hazen.

Solom glares at him. "Do you mind? Directly below that is the House Morcane level. Between the two but farther south is the Commoners' level, with two entrances. Above that is the Barracks. And north of that, but somewhat lower is the Inverted Tower. Dorina lives, so to speak, in House Morcane. You'll probably find her in the Matron Mother's quarters in the center. The House is organized like a surface castle, with a ring of corridors and octagonal guard rooms, and several passages that ascend to the Fane of Lolth."

Veracity smiles. "Thank you. I think you've told us what we need to know to plan our assault. Would you mind showing us to our quarters, please?"

"Certainly," says Solom. He leads the party to the central shaft, down one level and back into the next door. There, a long corridor leads left and right with a door at each end. Opening the door at the right end, he displays an octagonal room with chalk boards on each wall, many covered with arcane scrawls. "Please don't disturb the writings," requests Solom.

"Won't touch 'em," says Hazen. "I can read, you know."

Solom sighs and turns to Veracity. "Your pet continues to intrude."

Veracity turns to Hazen. "Hazen, please let me do the talking."

"Oh, no problem, Veracity. You can do the talking. I don't need to talk: I can be quiet. Silent Hazen, that's me. I ..." Hazen stops his babbling and looks around as everybody stares at him. "What? What did I say?"

"And my room?" asks Veracity.

"Follow me," says Solom. He leads everybody but Yol out to the central shaft, down one more level, and back through a door into a corridor with four doors. Yol lingers behind and studies the writings on the chalk boards in the instructional room. Solom opens the door on the left. "The other rooms contain my students, but you may use this one." It's a small room, only about eight by ten feet, with a bed and a small dresser. Thick layers of dust and cobwebs cover everything. Solom waves his hand and mutters, instantly making the room spotless.

"Thank you much, Solom," says Veracity. She and Brianna enter the room and look around. "This will do quite nicely." Veracity raises her hands over her head, arches her back, and stretches. She sits on the bed and leans on Brianna when her friend sits next to her. "Ah. I am stiff and sore." Closing her eyes, she muses for a time. Opening her eyes again, she looks up at Solom and smiles. "Thanks for your hospitality. We'll join you later this evening."

With a small smile, Solom arches his eyebrows and inclines his head. He turns and re-enters the corridor, closing the door behind him.

Tebryn snorts. "Let's talk arcana," he says. The two male drow walk off, talking intently, followed by the other males.

"I wonder where his students are?" wonders Kress.

Solom turns back to him. "They are all occupied with other tasks. You need not concern yourself with them."

Kress raises his hands in front of himself, palms forward. "Right," he responds.

Much later, Veracity and Brianna arrive at the instructional room and find everybody talking quietly. Tebryn smirks. "Feeling better?" Veracity blushes and nods. "Good. Solom has retired and we were discussing healing up as much as we can tonight. Can Brianna help?"

"Of course," agrees Brianna. She looks calculatingly at her companions. "Looks like Hazen could use my help most."

"Yeah, me!" says Hazen.

Brianna sings two little melodies, touching Hazen after each one, healing all of his damage. She sings another short tune and touches Tebryn, healing him entirely, as well. Both of her patients are appreciative.

"I'll cure Kress," says Yol. She chants and touches him, healing some of his wounds. "And myself, as well." She chants and heals all of her own damage. "I'm now almost entirely out of cures. I can provide only the smallest amount of healing now. For you, perhaps," she says to Veracity. She chants twice, providing minor healing.

"Thanks," say Kress and Veracity.

"Tomorrow, on to House Morcane and Dorina!" says Veracity. "Let's rest up. We'll re-learn our spells, eat breakfast, and take off, soon enough. Good night!" With a wave, she and Brianna go back to their room.

"Shall we set up watches?" asks Kress.

"Nah, that guy seemed trustworthy to me!" responds Hazen.

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Copyright © 2004 by Brianna Sollandry <brianna at hambo dot com> Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu
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