[WotD] Prologue - The Wake of Itar zin'Affa zin'Tringouli zin'Lloth

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Cronono
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[WotD] Prologue - The Wake of Itar zin'Affa zin'Tringouli zin'Lloth

The runes etched into the basalt summoning circle measured the length of a grown man's arm in both length and width. Each rune still bore the markings of Gendarv's chisel from several decades ago; more than one dwarven stonemason offered a disappointed frown upon first inspecting the comparatively sloppy handiwork of the Archmage. These runes were a testament to Gendarv's focus in her prime. Form followed function in all of the Archmange's doings. Of course, that focus was Sareen's undoing as well.

During their construction, Gendarv inlayed each rune with trace amounts of aurichalcum and argent. Gendarv secretly applied the precious molten metals with a macabre brush, constructed from the leg bone of a sacrificial goat and topped with her own ensorcelled hair. As with the markings from her chisel, which was ordinary in every way, Gendarv's brush strokes were visible to a trained craftsman. Despite the mediocre design, the brush strokes accomplished precisely the tasks that the Archmage had intended.

On this night, the hundred stride circle of igneous rock and the painted runes shimmered and sparked in the moonlight. A coterie of Fourty stood at the western edge of the circle, waiting. Each of the Fourty bore the insignia of an elk's antler on their left arm. The Fourty waited in the autumn's chill night air, missing the warmth of winter under these clear skies and anticipating the bite of winter soon to come.

It was the human Kendarr who first noticed the runes shift from reflecting the moonlight to actually shedding light of their own. Kendarr kept this fact to himself, as he almost always did. The light from the runes grew in intensity until the entire clearing was as bright as twilight. Crackling sorcerous power danced from rune to rune. Each rune sparked with its neighbors in a blue-white display until the crescendo of interplanar magic flooded the summoning circle with the transplanar swirl of colliding energies and opaque sanities. Kendarr was also the first to recognize that starring too long into the operating summoning circle changed a man, but he had shared that information with Archdruid Taron and no others.

Eventually, the swirl of power ceased its roiling tumult and simply began to simmer. From the floor, the first foot appeared, followed by the first leg, the first chest, and finally the long straight hair of the first drow head. Kendarr recognized Yuson as he ascended from the open portal between the Demonweb of Lloth and Sareen's Folly. Kendarr stepped forward from the Fourty to meet his opposite among the drow.

"We have seven hours until sunrise, Yuson. Will your men get through in time?" As Kendarr spoke, additional drow transited the portal. Somewhere in the Demonweb, a roiling portal had opened on the ground without a convenient ring of basalt to denote its outer limits. The assembled drow had walked to the nominal edge of that opening, put one foot over the opening between worlds, and simply fallen through. As they descended into the portal from the Demonweb, they ascended from the portal at Sareen's Folly. It was an awkward maneuver for first timers, but the fey grace of the drow made their plunging step graceful and elegant.

"My men will." Yuson's voice was somehow colder than the autumn chill. "The first guests will not arrive until we send for them." The drow was sharply but simply dressed in studded black leathers. An expertly crafted longsword hung at his side bearing the same spider motif that drow bore throughout the Great Wheel. "You can assume command in the morning." The drow's voice was heavily accented, but Kendarr could hear the resignation in the voice of the drow commander.

Kendarr looked back to the rest of the Fourty. More than half of the coterie were relatively new recruits who were unfamiliar with the strangeness of the outer planes. For the next year, they would serve with this contingent of drow to protect The Outpost from less friendly visitors. Kendarr asked his next question not out of compassion, but out of practical concerns for their morale. "When do your spiders show up?"

As if on queue, the first hooked leg probed the simmering surface of the portal's magic. Easily the size of a clydesdale, the arachnid possessed none of the fey grace that the drow possessed when fallscending through the portal. The giant spider's voice hissed as it managed to make the indelicate transition. Yuson stood silent. "All eight will be through this evening."

Kendarr nodded, staring at the repulsive mount rather than at Yuson. Still looking at the spider, Kendarr asked Yuson "Who was this Itar, that your noble families would loan your battalion to us for an entire year simply to host the wake?" Kendarr was uneasy around the creature, but he had seen stranger things in his travels through the portal.

"He was a minor bureaucrat of little note." Yuson licked his teeth. The whites reflected the ambient light from the magic in the night as additional drow forces continued to fallscend through the portal. "This wake is not really about Itar zin'Affa zin'Tringouli zin'Lloth, so much as it is about exploring the possibilities of exploiting your Outpost for our Queen's glory." Kendarr liked how Yuson didn't mince words.

The human couldn't suppress his grin. "At least you're not lying. When your men are assembled, my men will walk us into the Outpost."

~*~*~*~

Six days and seven nights passed before the construction was complete. Dyrakus worked with Kendarr and the drow to excavate a serviceable venue for the wake within the walls of the Outpost. Kendarr made his report to Archdruid Taron shortly after morning. "The new battalion members are falling into line surprisingly fast, Taron." Kendarr was exhausted, but only the deep circles under his eyes betrayed that fact to the halfling. His voice still carried the same timbre for which the Outpost's lead scout was known.

Taron nodded. As he did so, his antler crown exaggerated the motion. "Will the wake itself be secure?" The halfling continued to tend to the herb garden at the base of the great tree planted in the center of the outpost. Kendarr couldn't help but compare the dirt on Taron's knee to the immaculately clean silks of others he had served, including the Electors back in the heart of The Empire.

"As secure as it can be, given that we're inviting drow from all over the Great Wheel into the heart of The Outpost to celebrate their deceased." Kendarr shook his head. "Are you confident that this is a good idea, Taron? I can't imagine inviting guests from a place known as 'the Demonweb Pits' is a recipe for a successful business transaction." The scout ordinarily wouldn't question Taron, even in their current private setting, but he was still uneasy after one of the spiders had eaten a cat that had the temerity to enter the stables.

The halfling stood up and brushed the dirt off his hands. "They're going to study us, Simon," the halfling used Kendarr's given name in a show of familiarity, "and we're going to study them. They want to know if we can defend ourselves, which is why they were happy enough to give us an entire battalion for a year. We're going to get as much information from them as possible about what is happening on their layer of the Abyss. The Blood War hasn't impacted them. We need to know why."

Kendarr nodded. It was all he could do to bring his head back up. "A year of spiders. Great."

The archdruid and the scout walked toward the stonemason's stall, not far from the Great Tree. "As the hosts, we can send a few emissaries to the wake itself. Pick a few and get them to ferret out what they can."

Kendarr sighed. "Who would want that shit assignment?"

Edited by: Cronono on 12/06/2017 - 13:57
Cronono
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Just outside the palisade of The Outpost, the iron mine once used by Castle Vuzuvaan bustled with unusual activity. Six guards stood at the entrance. One loyal servant of the Empire stood chest to chest with one drow on either side of the timber supporting the mine entrance. Each Imperial stood looking into the mine with his left breast touching the left breast of a drow looking out. In the center of the entrance stood one Imperial an arms breadth away from a drow, but the Imperial was watching out while the drow looked in. The interwoven symbolism was lost on the vast majority of attendees, but the visiting battalion appreciated the efforts of their comrades in the Fourty.

Shuffling past the six guardians at the mine gate were visitors from drow kingdoms throughout the Great Wheel. Despite their varied homes in myriad planes, all the drow looked vaguely alike to the residents of The Outpost. There had to be hundreds of dark elves making their way to The Outpost for the wake. A Poor Few from the Outpost made their way into the darkness of the Iron Mine too, dimly illuminated as it was to accommodate the limited eyesight of the Fourty guardsmen and their colleagues in the drow battalion. Those poor visitors discovered what a week of heavy labor could do to "dress up" a mine for a wake.

The walls veritably crawled with spider silk. Fortunately for the arachnophobic, the spiders were nowhere to be seen. Instead, small spheres of spidersilk hovered in mid air, barely attached to the ceiling by almost invisible threads. Something inside the spheres provided dim lighting that danced across the silken walls and the ebony skin of the mine's inhabitants. Twisting freely in the disturbed air of the passing visitors, the illuminated spheres barely gave the Fourty and the Poor Few a sense of where the walls and the throngs of darkened fae stood. Figuring out who was who was somewhere between maddening and impossible.

The entire first floor consisted of heavily cloaked drow and some obvious members of the Fourty providing "security." Drow porters gathered the outdoor gear of the visitors and placed them in heavy leather bags which were stored out of the Poor Few's sight. Each of the Poor Few would be permitted to store any of their equipment with the porters or take it with them, although the drow guests universally leave their weapons and armor with the porters.

Descending in a wide stairway that still bore evidence of the battalion's work during the past week, the guests would make their way to a grand ballroom. Dyrakus provided plenty of honed marble in black and white to create the illusion of an elegant gather rather than an otherwise bleak iron mine. The mine's supports were covered in the same webbing, but the peculiar luminous spheres were securely wedged and provided consistent lighting in the ballroom. Hundreds of drow milled about and conversed about whatever mutual interests they shared across the planes of the Great Wheel.

To the west, a number of less elegant drow stood around a larger pit, engaged in bloodsport and spiderfighting for the entertainment of the crude masses. To the east, a number of genteel drow sipped fragrant wine from crystaline glasses and laughed politely at murmurs. Those members of the Poor Few somehow felt that the eastern gathering was somehow more dangerous.

The assignment of the Poor Few was clear: develop contacts among the gathered drow, gather information regarding the state of the Demonweb Pits in the Blood War, and try not to commit an interplanar faux pas to aggravate an entire race that worshiped the Demon Queen of the Abyss. Kendarr stood by the stairs leading up to the mine entrance, but the Poor Few and a dozen members of the Fourty were otherwise left to their own devices amid a sea of Drow.

MinusInnocence
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Caleb was always eager to make new acquaintances. He rubbed elbows among the rougher crowd along the western end of the ballroom before making his way across the chamber to where the more refined guests mingled, taking in whatever conversations could be overheard without trying to appear as though he was eavesdropping. He felt it prudent to get the lay of the land before putting his foot in his mouth.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Dafyd
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Charn, a somewhat imposing figure of obvious draconic descent clad in bright chain mail, mingles not far from where Caleb is standing. When someone asks him how he ended up out here, he responds with a toothy grimace. "It's a long story," he answers warily. Of note, the warrior appears to avoid taking any of the offered refreshments.

MinusInnocence
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Caleb accepts a glass of whatever it is the highborne Drow are drinking from the nearest server, downing it fast enough that he thought he could turn back and place it back on the tray before the man got too far away. No such luck; instead, the young cleric shrugs his shoulders and sets it at the edge of the nearest table. He waits for a lull in the conversation between the two noblewomen then smiles widely and nods.

"Too true. But one must consider the theory that Lolth was already swollen with child when she descended to the Demonweb Pits. So, maybe driders are considered a divine blessing from the Spider Queen and maybe they're not; I will defer to experts such as yourselves. But the first of them must have been the children of Corellon Larethian, were they not? Their divine bonafides definitely check out but that must be really controversial, right?"

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Cronono
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Charn takes one end of the silken rope and eyes up his competitor, a young drow with a nasty scar running from the left side of his left eye down to his jaw. The rope is unbelievably slick.

"Now, my friends, we watch the youth Grestlemir," the announcer points to Charn's opponent, "test his strength against a draconic half-breed!" The roar of laughter catches Charn unawares, and young Grestlemir rips the silken rope directly out of Charn's unwitting hands.

"One point for the child!" As the announcer roars, the low-class drow drown out the scene with laughter.

Grestlemir offers Charn one end of the silken rope for round two. Charn takes it, digging his fingers into the silk. Charn gives one solid tug while Grestlemir is playing up to the crowd and Grestlemir falls on to the honed marble floor.

"One point for the half-breed!" The announcer is audible over the crowd this time, but it is obvious that Grestlemir is not favored by every drow in attendance.

Cronono
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Caleb watches as the head of the shorter drow priestess cocks itself to the side. "Who is this Core-e-lion you speak of, human?"

The taller priestess looks to the shorter priestess and puts one hand gently on the shorter priestess' shoulder. "Some minor diety from Menzoberranzan, Lili." The taller priestess smiles. Most humans wouldn't notice, but she is taking gleeful delight in Lili's ignorance.

"That backwater? Surely you jest, human. Unless Priestess Kalani is playing a practical joke on me? Surely, you do not think that a demigod from Moral or Toral or Toril or wherever had anything to do with the Driders?" Lili is searching Caleb's face for a sign of humor.

MinusInnocence
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Caleb shrugs and laughs. "I defer to your wisdom on the matter, Mistress! If you would educate us, I'm all ears." He waits for her to respond but slips away while the two very-dangerous women are looking at each other at the earliest opportunity.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Cronono
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Caleb is able to get away when one of the three thieves introduces himself as Folren Baenre to Priestess Lili. "I mean no disrespect, priestess, but as a noble of Menzoberranzan I can assure you that we are no backwater . . . "

Caleb misses the end of the conversation, but it does appear quite passionate.

MinusInnocence
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Feeling like he got out of there just in time, Caleb almost bumps into someone else he tagged earlier as one of the three cutpurses. He manages a smile, thankful he didn't bring any money (he didn't have any anyway).

"Quite a crowd, huh?" the cleric gestures around the room. "Too bad not everyone wants to mingle together. Not like that guy..." he nods across the chamber to the faux-ruffian who really belongs with the other Highborne. "he believes in downward mobility, if you catch my meaning. It doesn't look like anyone's noticed, so maybe he still has all his coin."

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Cronono
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The thief nods at Caleb. "I understand. Your objective is to take Priestess Lili's necklace when the spider goes wild. I will meet you upstairs with the replacement bag."

The thief shoves one of the porter bags from upstairs into Caleb's hands. The thief then departs upstairs toward the porters.

MinusInnocence
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Caleb frowns. He wasn't trying to apply for a job. "Thieves' cant," he mutters. Looking around, he decides the best course of action is to linger near the mistress he spoke to earlier, wait for someone to give the signal to the spiderhandler and then try to apprehend whoever else might think it's their job to steal the necklace.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken