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?"