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













The City of the Spider Queen - Day 2 - The Fane of Lolth and the Bazaar

Marpenoth 29, 1372 DR (5:00 PM) Szith Morcane: House Morcane

"We're done here," says Veracity. "Let's go back to the Inverted Tower."

"Let's go up to the Fane. Or temple, or whatever it is," suggests Hazen.

Dessa glares at him. "The Fane of Lolth is sacred to me. Those who do not follow Lolth must not enter it."

Hazen raises his hands. "Hey, we should see if its been desecrated or anything. You know - kill anything that doesn't belong there."

Dessa turns to Veracity. "Your pet is insufferable." She frowns and ponders.

Hazen sidles up to Veracity and whispers to her. "I don't understand why these drow we keep meeting keep talking about pets." He points first at Nightlife and then at Drusilla. "I see the cat. It's not clawing anybody. I see the raven. It's not pooped on anything, yet. They're both very well behaved! What's the deal?" Veracity smiles at him and shrugs.

Dessa looks at Hazen, shakes her head, and then turns to speak to Veracity. "The pet's idea is actually good. We must make sure the Fane has not been desecrated." She scowls. "It could hardly have not been desecrated, but we should see what we can do."

"All right," says Veracity. "Let's go back out front. There are no web ladders in the central part of the house. They seem to be in the chambers around the perimeter."

The group assembles near the rightmost ladder off the entrance hall. Dessa looks up at it. "Only followers of Lolth can climb this ladder," she warns.

"What do you mean?" asks Veracity. "Is it trapped, somehow, or is it simply convention that only followers use it? How about the other ladders?"

Dessa stares at her. "Only followers of Lolth are supposed to go into the temple. Since all drow are meant to follow Lolth, the distinction is meaningless. Until this invasion, it wasn't an issue."

"I'll fly up," says Igor. He flies up and lands inside the entrance.

"I'll enter the hole without using the ladder. That way, it shouldn't matter if the ladder is trapped," comments Veracity. She dons her slippers of spider climbing and runs up the wall. Brianna and Tebryn quickly follow her example.

Dessa shrugs and starts to climb the ladder.

Kress and Hazen take off and start to follow Igor.

"Hey," calls Yol. "Give me a lift?" Kress flies down and carries her through the entrance, joining all the other adventurers.

Through the hole is a narrow tunnel. Following it, the party emerges into a large hall, permeated by the pungent smell of decayed flesh. A twin row of columns marches down the hallway. The floor is littered with the rotting corpses of those who had fallen in battle. The battle must have occurred some time ago as the flesh of the corpses is melting into slime. The odor of death in this room is vile.

Veracity gasps. "Oh, ick!" She leans forward and retches uncontrollably. Brianna and Dessa are similarly weak-stomached, but everybody else merely wrinkles his nose and stoically withstands the stench. Yol smiles and inhales deeply. "Ah!"

While waiting for the three unfortunates to acclimate to the miasma, the party looks curiously around the room. The chamber is carved to resemble an enormous spider, as if this room were the inside of the front portion. A heavy iron gate, battered & bent, hangs loose on its hinges between the front and back sections of the spider. Eight tunnels from below converge, four on each side, near the wall separating the front and back rooms.

"Where do those tunnels go?" asks Hazen, pointing to one on the opposite side of the room.

"One tunnel per leg, of course," says Tebryn. "Didn't you say you'd found eight web ladders, one in each of the octagonal guard posts around the perimeter of the house?"

"Oh, yeah," says Hazen.

After a few minutes, everybody feels ready to proceed. "Let's check out those corpses!" suggests Hazen. Dessa immediately glares daggers at him and opens her mouth to speak.

Veracity interrupts. "We shall not despoil the fallen of this house, Hazen."

"Aw, come on! They might have good stuff and they won't need it," protests Hazen.

"I said no, Hazen," says Veracity firmly.

Dessa looks at her and nods. "I have seen enough here", she says.

"Let's go through the gate," suggests Igor.

"You may not go to that part of the Fane," protests Dessa. "That is only for clerics of Lolth."

"Why don't you go and see if there's anything that needs fighting? Call us if you need help. Fair enough?" suggests Igor.

Dessa nods. "Very well." She approaches the gate and pushes through. She turns back and addresses the rest of the group. "If you come through here, do NOT touch the gate. Only female drow worshipers of Lolth can pass safely." She looks around the room and comes back. "Nothing there."

Igor points to the alcove at the other end of the room. "How about the head of the spider?" he suggests.

The party approaches the alcove and sees that it contains an altar. Lying on top of the altar is a slain drow woman, her head lolling.

"Leave her alone," says Veracity. "There's nothing we can do here. Let's go."

Dessa nods and heads out the tunnel the party had come in through. She climbs down the web ladder, and everybody else descends to the entrance hall via flight or spider climbing.

"Now, time to go shopping!" says Hazen.

(6:00 PM) Szith Morcane: The Bazaar

The party lines up and climbs the web to the Bazaar entrance. "Let me scout ahead," says Hazen. He turns invisible and enters the hole. A few minutes later, he reappears. "Big cavern, a few merchants. a couple of locals, a couple of visitors."

"Locals?" queries Tebryn. "Commoners?"

"Judging by their clothes, more of the sort we encountered up above," says Hazen.

Dessa starts. Tebryn reaches out and grasps her shoulder. "Let's stay here. Doesn't sound like anything you or I needs to check out. Talk to me. What did you mean by 'Before I went away', in the priestesses' rooms down in the house?"

Dessa glowers at him a bit but calms down and seems willing to chat. "It was like this ..."

The rest of the party, two drow, one duergar, two humans, and a tiefling, enter the Bazaar. It's a huge cavern which seems overly large for the small clump of creatures occupying the far part of the floor. Two large pack lizards stand on the floor with three duergar merchants displaying goods from bundles tied to the lizards' backs. The customers are a motley collection of creatures: two drow, three kuo-toa, and a mind-flayer. A ledge 10-feet up runs along the far wall, with half a dozen doors set into it. An entrance leading to a sloping passage exits to the right, next to the far wall.

"Let's go see what they're selling," suggests Hazen. He starts walking towards the merchants, followed by Veracity and Brianna, Igor, Yol, and Kress.

The merchants and their customers look up as the party approaches and grows agitated. "Surface dwellers!" they call, drawing their weapons. The two drow step back. The mind flayer moves to the side and looks with interest at the new arrivals, his tentacles quivering. The kuotoans quickly hasten down the passage to the right and disappear.

Veracity and Hazen look at each other, confused. "Where?" asks Hazen. "We're from the Underdark, too!"

One of the duergar peers suspiciously at Hazen. "Who are you?" he asks, in Duergar. "Where are you from?"

"I'm Hazen," responds the rogue. "I'm not from around here. I'm from far away." He looks around and stretches his hands wide. "Very far away." He stretches his arms even wider. "Way, way, far away."

"Hmm. This is our territory," says the merchant. He looks to his fellows and all nod to each other before turning back to Hazen.

Hazen holds his hands up in front of him. "I'm not selling! In fact, I might be buying!"

The duergar merchant peers suspiciously at Hazen. "Oh, OK. But keep those hands where we can see them!"

The party moves up and examines the trade goods. There are various arms and armor, some of masterwork quality, as well as common foodstuffs, such as cheese, dried meats, and fungus, and a random collection of leather goods and equipment useful for traversing the Underdark, such as climbing equipment. The only fancy goods are a number of bolts of various kinds of fine cloth.

"Not much we need here, I'm afraid," says Hazen. "But, I'll buy these." He picks up and purchases a packet of mushroom snacks. "Thanks anyway!"

The merchant grunts and turns back to his remaining customers.

Out of the passage where the kuo-toans had fled come two sentries, wearing the tell-tale tabards with grinning black skulls, accompanied by another drow spellguard, with black pants and a purple shirt.

Veracity swaggers up to the drow and looks at each in turn. "We need to talk," she says. "Come over here." The drow glare at her suspiciously. "Come on," she repeats. "I don't want to kill you, but I could do it easily enough, if you don't cooperate. I'm not necessarily your foe - yet. Come talk to me."

The two sentries and the spell guard look at each other and then back at her. They peer at her companions, and then slowly follow her to the side of the cavern and cluster around her.

"Times, have changed, my friends," says Veracity. "Life as a follower of Kiaransalee in Szith Morcane has just gotten much more difficult. Dorina and her relatives are all dead. I did it, and I am in charge here, now. You!" she says, pointing to one of the sentries. "Which house has that livery?"

The three drow seem somewhat frightened at her news and look at each other, but the challenged drow answers her: "This is the livery of Irae T'sarran." His fellow sentry cuffs him and he stops talking.

Veracity nods. "As I said, times have changed. Her house has been driven from Szith Morcane. I imagine some of those living here switched allegiance when Dorina came sweeping in. It's not too late to rethink that decision. Are you from here, or from Maerimydra?" she asks.

The sentry looks as if he might want to talk, but his companions glare at him, and he closes his lips tightly.

Veracity sighs. She mutters an arcane phrase and waves her hand. Looking at the sentry, she says, "come talk to me in private, friend." The sentry's eyes glaze and then clear. He nods and starts forward. His companion grabs his arm, but, he shakes loose of the grasp. "It's all right," he says. He and Veracity move several yards away an continue their conversation.

"My name is Veracity, friend. What is yours?"

"I am Sorn," says the sentry.

"Are you from Szith Morcane?" asks Veracity.

"No, I came from Maerimydra with Dorina's army," answers Sorn.

Veracity raises her eyebrows. "I'd be very interested in hearing your account of conditions in Maerimydra," she comments. "Tell me about the house of Irae T'sarran".

The sentry shifts uncomfortably. "I'm not actually from Maerimydra. I arrived after it had fallen and was swept up into the conquering army. We came to Szith Morcane and captured it. I'm part of Irae's army, but I don't really know much."

Veracity nods. "It's not too late to change sides. Stay here in Szith Morcane and help rebuild it. I'm sure experienced soldiers will be useful - especially since I have killed several dozens of the ones who were here."

"I can't," says the sentry. "I will be killed in the great Day of Vengeance, which is coming soon. I believe that things have changed, here, for now, but I can't withstand that which is inevitably coming."

Veracity sighs. "I understand. Very well. Go now. Talk to your companions - those that still live, anyway. Let them know that things have changed in Szith Morcane and that Dorina has fallen."

Sorn scoots back to his companions and all three disappear down the passage.

"OK," says Veracity. "Back to the Inverted Tower. A good day's work!"

The party moves along the strand of web and enters the hole leading to the Inverted Tower. Veracity deactivates the ward at the entrance and all move into the ante chamber. Within a couple of minutes, Solom comes out of the tower and descends to greet the returning heroes. He looks with interest at Dessa.

"Well met, Dessa Sik-Morcane. I have not seen you for years," he says. Dessa scowls at him and turns away. Solom shrugs and turns to Veracity. "You were successful?" he asks.

"Quite so," says Veracity.

"Ah," says Solom. "Please come with me and tell me all. Your companions are free to move within the tower. You may continue to use your rooms, of course."

Veracity follows Solom to his chambers and they sit down to talk. She speaks at length. Finally, she concludes: "In summary, we have destroyed Dorina and her followers. Nothing living - or undead - remains in the House Morcane complex, that we know of. Dessa is the only living member of that noble House remaining, I believe."

Solom nods. "Excellent. You have my thanks." He peers at Veracity. "Dessa is not a threat to my plans. Perhaps I can make use of her."

"I hope so," says Veracity. "We have removed most of the defenders of Szith Morcane, in our excursions. Of course, Dorina also removed almost all of the defenders of this outpost when she arrived. But she, at least, replaced them with her own followers."

Solom waves his hand dismissively. "We are hardly helpless. You have done well. What are your plans now?"

Veracity ponders. "I'd like to stay for a few days. We have collected a lot of loot, and my brother and I need to identify it. Also, we can send our 'pets' to the surface to sell that which we don't want to keep for ourselves." She looks at Solom quizzically. "If you are planning on building up your own army in Szith Morcane, perhaps you'd want to buy some of it yourself?"

"Perhaps," says Solom. "And then?"

"And then, on to Maerimydra! Where is the passage from Szith Morcane to that city, anyway?"

Solom considers. "It exits from the Commoners' level. Go through quickly, as there are many who live there, in squalid conditions." He wrinkles his nose. "It's not a place that you or I would want to spend much time in. Take the Northeast passage. I'll give you further directions when you're ready to go."

He stands up. "Well. Your news is most excellent and you have my gratitude. Of course, you may stay on in the same rooms in the Inverted Tower that you've been using. I'll come by later for conversation with you all. Go now, freshen up, and enjoy yourself."

"Thanks," says Veracity. She rejoins her companions.

The party, with the exception of Dessa, sits around the instructional room of the Inverted Tower. Dessa, freed from captivity, is restlessly wandering around Szith Morcane. Everybody else is quietly discussing their plans.

"We'll be staying here a few days yet," says Veracity. "Tomorrow, Tebryn and I will magically identify much of the loot we've found. You guys can figure out a lot of it by sparring. Then, the following day, perhaps it's time for a return to Dagger Falls? Remember Hazen's comment a couple of days ago, when Brianna, Igor, and Kress came back from Randal Morn? 'You guys didn't even ask for a reward,' he said. Perhaps we can make up for that lapse after the fact. After all, we did do what he desired - and can prove it. It wasn't - and still isn't - our final quest, but clearing out Dorina from Szith Morcane did solve his problem." She smirks. "Until the 'Day of Vengeance' comes. But, preventing that, whatever it is, is also our quest, I think, if we do as Loviatar bade us."

"And we can sell all the extra stuff we found," suggests Igor. "Who needs eighteen mithral breastplates?"

"Seventeen. We gave one to Dessa," says Veracity.

"Gave?" interrupts Igor. "Since when? We loaned it to her so she wouldn't be killed right away as she accompanied us while we went after Dorina."

Veracity raises her eyebrows. "I think she pulled her own weight with that glaive. She hit Dorina three times with it - which is actually more times than you swung at Dorina with your sword, although you did execute the killing blow. Dessa also attacked the driders, and was extremely helpful guiding us in the Fane of Lolth."

"We were helping her take vengeance on those who had killed her family," demurs Igor. "Normally, that kind of behavior would get us a reward. And, we rescued her from being turned into a vampire, for crying out loud!" He calms himself and adds, "I don't care that we're not getting a reward, but why should we do that for her and then just give her stuff? We should sell the stuff we loaned her, when we go back to Dagger Falls."

"Well, we don't necessarily have to give her precisely the equipment we loaned her. One of those magical mithral shirts is actually just as useful to her as the mithral breastplate - and is lighter, even - but is worth less to us as loot. I'd like to equip her, because, if she's going to be our ally in Szith Morcane, I'd rather she were stronger," proposes Veracity.

"Ally?" Igor scoffs. "How is she going to be useful to us? Why do we care?"

"Igor, I actually agree with Veracity," interjects Hazen. He turns and wags his finger at her. "This time. On this point. Just this once." Turning back to Igor, he continues. "I've always said that it's good to have friends in low places. Dessa's whole family was wiped out. So, we help her out, we give her some stuff, and she helps us if we come back here."

"So you want to give charity to those who have suffered misfortune? Why not go to the families of the farmers who were killed in the drow raids and offer to give them stuff? I'm sure they'd be happy to give us vegetables any time we came back. That sounds more useful to me than giving Dessa stuff in exchange for some undetermined 'help' later if we come back," says Igor.

"Vegetables? Do we need vegetables?" wonders Kress.

Hazen waves his hands dismissively. "No, no. You don't understand, Igor. Dessa is the sole remaining member of House Morcane. You know these Drow Houses - there aren't that many of them. Being allied with one would be useful."

"'Not that many of them?'" whispers Veracity to Tebryn and Brianna, in Drow. "The duergar is lecturing to the human about drow society. This should be interesting." Tebryn nods, and Brianna grins.

"What 'House'? Dessa is alone. Everybody else in her family was slain," points out Igor.

"Ah, but I foresee great things for her. The House will be rebuilt from her issue." explains Hazen.

"Her 'issue'?" wonders Igor. "What in the world are you talking about?"

"Her offspring!" says Hazen. "I can see her now: Dessa, Matron Mother of House Morcane. Friend and ally of Hazen, and his companions." He stands up and starts pacing and gesturing. "Dessa, Matriarch of a reborn noble drow house. All she needs is a Patriarch, and the offspring will inevitably flow forth."

"Uh huh," says Igor. "That could take centuries."

"No, no. Not for the grimacing one. She could have her pick of partners, any time she wanted," says Hazen gesturing grandiloquently, ending by placing his hand upon his own chest.

"Patriarch?" murmurs Veracity to her companions, raising her eyebrows. She rolls her eyes. "This will be fun." She clears her throat and addresses the grey dwarf. "Um. Hazen, I don't think you're her type. Somehow, I just can't picture you as the Patron of a Drow House."

"Wha, wha, but, uh," sputters Hazen. "No, no. I didn't mean me. She's not my type either. A female drow ..."

Veracity raises her eyebrows. "You are saying there is something wrong with Dessa? Or is it female drow, in general?"

"No, no, no! You know me. I wouldn't say that. To you, at least. But you've never seen me chasing people like her."

Veracity nods slowly. "Of course not. I understand. You've got Kress."

Hazen's eyes bug out as he stares at Veracity. "Wait a minute! You're twisting my words. Or my mind. Or something. We're not talking about any proclivities I might or might not once have had or not had or ..." Kress snorts and reaches over to cuff his master.

Igor clears his throat. "I think this is a digression from our real discussion. We were talking about the value of allies, and of the concept of rewarding those for whom we've just performed a service, rather than them rewarding us. Like those farmers on the surface, I mentioned."

"Right," says Tebryn. "You were talking about having them give us vegetables. If I understood you aright, you were proposing that we should go finish off the farmsteads that had been raided before, so we can take their vegetables."

"What?" says Igor.

Brianna leans forward. "Igor, if you want to raid the farms, let's do it on the way back from Dagger Falls, after we've collected a reward for stopping the drow raids. I think Randal Morn would be less generous with us if we raided his farms on the way to visit him." She grins and laughs as Igor stares at her in disbelief.

Igor pulls himself together. "You're all joking with me. I think. I hope." He sighs. "Am I the only one who thinks we shouldn't give Dessa anything? Very well. I'll go along with what you all think, but if we're planning on giving equipment to people we find in the future, we should discuss it ahead of time."

Kress nods. "Right. The next time we find a female drow hanging by her wrists, being slowly turned into a vampire, we should have a little discussion before helping her out."

Igor sighs and turns away, shaking his head. He sighs and turns back. "What are our plans for tomorrow?" he asks. "Are we ready to move on?"

"We need to identify all our loot," says Tebryn. "You guys can spar with the weapons and armor, while Veracity and I magically identify the rest. Then, the next day, perhaps you could sell all the discards, back in Dagger Falls?" Igor nods.

"If we're going back to Dagger Falls, I'll compose a ballad tomorrow, commemorating our conquest of Szith Morcane, to sing to Randal Morn," suggests Brianna. "Who knows? Perhaps he'll be generous."

Kress peers at her suspiciously. "Like the ballad you wrote about Veracity and Vecna? Are you planning on mentioning the rest of us, or just Veracity?"

Brianna blushes. "I would certainly sing of Igor, as well. Tebryn did some notable things. I could even mention Hazen. He was very clever with that second priestess. And you were certainly well-toasted, Kress. I would be happy to mention that, as well!"

Kress sighs. "Right."

"How about me?" asks Yol.

"Yol, didn't you pray this morning for a spell to speak with the dead?" asks Veracity, changing the subject. "Let's question one of the corpses!"

Yol nods. "Indeed. One can learn much from death. Let us see what we can learn from the dead. What shall we ask?"

"I'd like to know who these people were. Their names, and how they're related to this Irae T'sarran person - you know, the one with the livery of the grinning skulls. If she's the one who sent the invasion from Maerimydra, and these are her lieutenants, I'd like to know the connection," says Veracity.

"That's just idle curiosity," says Tebryn. "If the priestess had been responsive to you during your little 'session' with her, you could have asked all that. Yol will have a limited number of questions per corpse, I believe."

Yol nods. "Three each. I do not object to asking their names, as I like to know the tally of those whom I have sent into Hel's hands."

"Fine," says Tebryn. "But I have many other things I'd rather know."

"How about asking about what happened in Maerimydra?" suggests Kress.

"We know what happened there," says Veracity. "We have the letter from the officer to her cousin. But, Dorina's letter mentioned some things I'd like to know more about, as did Loviatar. What is this Undying Temple, anyway?"

"Yes," agrees Tebryn. "And that reference in Dorina's letter to the 'Great Revanance' sounds ominous. If that letter was from Irae, as seems likely, what IS she up to? And if she sent Dorina and these others to Szith Morcane, what allies does she have left in Maerimydra?"

"We have plenty of questions," says Yol. "More than I will be able to ask. As I said, three per corpse. I can question one tonight, and up to three more tomorrow. Who first?"

"The priestess I tried to question," says Veracity. "The other priestess looks like her twin sister. And that male blackguard. Is he, perhaps, the 'Zedarr' referenced in Dorina's letter? You recall that Dorina was directed to retreat with Zedarr, if harassed, and leave the others to die in glory for Kiaransalee. If she was to bring back just one, it hardly seems likely to be one of a set of identical twins."

Tebryn nods. "Good thinking, Veracity. Yes. We'll save the questions about the Great Revanance and Irae's allies for Zedarr. If he's higher up in her confidence, he's more likely to know the answers."

"Very well," says Yol. "Let's go question the priestess." All follow her down to the guard room on the first floor where the corpses had been stowed. She kneels at the side of the first priestess, and mutters, waving her holy symbol over the corpse in an elaborate pattern.

The corpse speaks. "What would you know?"

"What is your full name?" asks Yol.

"I am Velasta T'sarran," responds the corpse.

"What is your relationship to Irae T'sarran?" queries Yol. Tebryn frowns and mutters to himself. "Idle waste of a question!"

"I am Irae T'sarran's niece," answers the corpse.

Yol scowls at Tebryn and turns back to the corpse. "What is the Undying Temple?" she asks.

"It is an undead artifact construct of Kiaransalee," responds the corpse.

"Satisfied?" says Yol to Tebryn.

Tebryn nods. "That sounds scary," he observes. "I certainly was not expecting that answer!"

"Nor I," says Yol. "Perhaps we can learn more tomorrow. How many times should I pray for this spell? I could question up to three more corpses."

"I think one for the priestess and one for the blackguard will be enough," says Veracity. "Dorina would have been worth questioning, but we don't have her body, and everybody else was but a foot soldier in Irae's cause, I'd wager."

"Indeed," says Tebryn. "Let's turn in. We have much to do tomorrow."

Veracity and Brianna go to their room and the others retire to the instructional room. Much quiet conversation continues in each room for several more hours.

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