The compound of house Baenre sat upon its perch, silently watching over its domain, Menzoberranzan. Huge stalagmites and stalactites gathered together to form the basis of the buildings, forming a jagged and imposing silhouette, barely visible in the cavern’s dim light.
Them, appearing as a group of drow to all outsiders, looked up at it from the streets below, Zavra’s chaos shard held reverentially as she told the group of their new task assigned by Lolth – wipe out the most powerful house of drow society. Well, almost all of Them looked up at the house. Perrin and Artorious saw their intent gazes, shared a look between each other and pretended to also be gazing seriously at the compound instead of staring in to blackness.
“Preparation is paramount. I require multifarious ensorcelled sundries.” Kaedri began muttering to herself as she paced, thinking of where to go, almost running in to Artorious. He stared at her with a dull look, eyebrows raised. She stared back at him, hypothesising what he was not understanding. “Residuum, Artorius. We need residuum in case something goes bad with the bad people and you die.”
Artorius smirked to himself. “No foe shall fell me.”
Rolling her eyes, Zavra walked on to find the party a shop. Half an hour later they entered a quaint store called The Arcane Diaphox. A demure, unassuming drow lady stood with her back to the party behind a counter, her stylish black dress laced with silver spiderweb trim mostly covered by a thick apron. Upon hearing customers she quickly shoved a book back in to its shelf and gave the newcomers her attention.
“We need residuum,” Kaedri stated to the shopkeeper. “We need…” she trailed off and a hushed discussion erupted in a group huddle for a few seconds before she turned back to the shopkeeper. “… 5000 residuum.”
“Of course! The going rate for residuum is a 10% markup for gold equivalence, which would bring the total to 5,500 gold.”
Zavra walked – strutted – in front of the party, her eyebrows up and lips pursed in self-satisfaction. She stood for a moment and made a show of walking to the side, turning to face the party, displaying her Baenre symbols with pride and hoity toitying her way back to the shopkeeper. The shop keeper looked at her with confused concern. The rest of the party looked at her with confused concern. A beat passed before Zavra turned on her passive aggressive charm.
“Are you sure you want to overcharge a drow of house Baenre?”
“Th-that’s the going rate, I’m afraid.” In an instant Zavra lurched forward, uncomfortably close, and the shopkeeper flinched, averting her eyes. Tilting her head slightly Zavra studied the woman’s face before leaning even further in.
“You’re a bad liar.”
Instantly the shopkeeper’s arms were crossed in a sign of peace. Zavra narrowed her eyes and after a beat slowly returned the gesture.
“That’s the p-price.”
“That shall suffice,” Kaedri chimed in, handing over the gold.
A beat passed before Zavra relinquished her pressure, shoving backwards and smirking down at the shopkeeper. “Don’t get too attached.” The shopkeeper fled out the back.In moments the party was on their way with the merchandise but halfway through the door the shopkeeper’s voice called out to Them.
“Are you the gambling type?” Sky, the nameless gnome and Poppy stopped in their tracks, their ears perking up. “Sava. Double or nothing. You win, you get your gold back, all that residuum for free. I win, you pay double.”
Stalking back in, Zavra took the lead and accepted with haste. Two minutes later a board was set up and they began playing, Them working out the rules as they went along.
Defying the odds, the nameless gnome rolled double spiders time and time again, causing havoc amongst the shopkeeper’s forces and they promptly won the first round. Round two began and the group jumped straight in to it before Zavra called the game to a stop, calling out the shopkeeper breaking the rules. Grumbling she adjusted her set up and the rest of Them congratulated Zavra on picking up on the foulplay.
Throughout the second round Sky seemed distracted, wandering from her seat to look at tidbits on shelves, touching things as she passed. Upon seeing the shopkeeper, wrapped up in Sava, go to make her move, Sky quickly and deftly flipped the sign on the front of the shop to closed. Wandering back to the table she dripped some poison down her blade behind her back and waited. Watched. Watched as Them, playing Sava for the first time, managed to demolish the shopkeeper in strategy. The nameless gnome flipped the two dice in the air a few times with satisfaction and the shopkeeper begrudgingly returned the gold to the party. Smiles and farewells were had from the smug party and as they left, Sky flipped the sign back to open, flashing the shopkeeper a half smile.
Awaiting them outside, trying to look inconspicuous, were the two elves disguised as drow, visibly uncomfortable. Around them was a flurry of commotion with drow running in all directions.
Holding her hand up Zavra seized a drow male as he ran by and turned her gaze to him. “You. Explain.”
“L-l-liches have been spotted at Dead D-Dragon Gorge! They’re moving faster than anything we’ve seen before! They could be here tomorrow!”
She let him go, him quickly scampering for safety, and turned to the others. “They’re distracted now, let’s go pay a visit to our dear friends at Baenre.”
Onwards they hurried, up the hill towards the compound. Holding her hand up to halt the party, Zavra told them of the invisible wall that would hold all intruders until the Matron Mother came and freed the intruders. She turned to the group and they began theorising methods of finding the door when a feeble voice piped up.
“Over here, guys,” Kaedri stood waving at them a short distance away. “There is no magical aura emanating from this area; ergo, the entrance is surely to be found here.”
Moving forward with shrugs and trusting the wizard the group found no resistance. A short distance along the front door became visible with two guards stationed out the front. “Let me do all the talking.” Zavra stated as she hushed the rest of the party.
“Who are you?” one guard demanded, stepping forward while jutting his chin forward. His voice was full of bravado, keen to assert his authority.
“You don’t recognise ME? Oh dear, I really have been away for too long. How old are you, child?”
“Old enough….” He petulantly pushed out, instinctively conceding power of the conversation to the superior gender. “Why are you here?”
“Quenthel is gathering all of her followers, duh. Even those who are doing important work away from the mother city like myself. She needs me. For the liches.”
The two guards shared a look, gauging each other’s support.
“Yeah, yeah, I…. I heard something about that. Apologies ma’am, go on through.”
In to the complex Them wandered, feigning confidence, peaking in to doorways. Happening upon the throne room Them found themselves discreetly watching none other than Quenthel delivering a visceral pep-talk to a crowded room of her subjects.
“Nice goin’ Zavs!” Perrin whispered, “How’d you know that SHE’D be in charge out of all her sisters and mother?”
Zavra caught herself staring in disbelief and quickly picked her jaw up. “Woman’s intuition.” She stated sagely, nodding to herself. “You’ll never know just how much I know.”
A goblin servant scampered towards the doorway Them occupied while he held a tray of food. Quickly pushing themselves backwards and to the wall they held their breath as the servant approached. He did not raise his eyes from two feet in front of him as he passed. Seeing an opportunity, the nameless gnome followed the goblin servant through the halls back to the kitchen and Them convened just outside the kitchen to formulate a game plan.
Peering through the doorway three large vats were visible and stew was being served and prepared from all three. Closer to the ground on the tables were a variety of dishes, notably a finicky type of fish that Zavra knew to be deadly if prepared incorrectly.
Within minutes, Sky held a bottle containing a deadly mixture of Halfling poison, a fear potion and the death inducing poison of Zavra’s. As a finishing touch Them tried to convince Perrin to part with a small amount of Halfling alcohol but he was adamantly protective.
Poppy draped herself over Perrin’s shoulder and stroked his chin.
“Perriny Perriny Perrin… Listen to me. It would be so FUNNY!”
Staring stubbornly back at the Tiefling inches away from his face he squinted and scrunched his nose, before his features softened and he handed his beloved over.
With a sigh, Kaedri invoked an invisibility spell over Sky and she slipped in to the kitchen. Straight to a pot of fish right by the door, a few drops joined the recipe effortlessly and unnoticed. A goblin cook stood in the way, taking a minute to be lazy, and Sky gingerly crept around him. At the first vat of stew Sky dribbled a few drops in with a definite plop. Freezing, she waited and listened to see if she was caught. No alarm was raised. Breathing a sigh of relief, she spun around just in time to see a large wooden spoon rushing towards her face.
Through pure instinct she fell to her knees, spread apart, while letting her head fall backwards. Whooshing overhead, the spoon plunged in to the stew. The chef leaned with one foot forward, the foot swinging to a stop between Sky’s legs. Her head shot down in a panic. Her head shot up in a panic. The chef held the spoon up to his mouth, he looked about to taste the freshly concentrated poison… He held it there. Inspecting it. A little saliva dropped down to spatter on Sky’s face. She silently gagged. The chef put the spoonful back in without tasting it and gave the vat a good stir.
Ducking out from under him Sky very quickly finished the job and joined the rest of Them outside the kitchen. Instead of attempting to stop her hands from shaking she alerted everyone to her presence and then asked to stay invisible.
“Did everything go smoothly? Is it done?”
“’Course it’s done,” Sky smirked, “easy as pie. Or stew.”
“Let’s get out of here, then!”
Them hurried to the entrance of the complex and were passing through the entryway when suddenly a familiar buzzing froze them in place.
“Hey there. Why are you leaving so soon?” The original guard asked in a jovial manner, wandering towards them.
Are you ready? The voice spoke straight in to their minds.
WE ARE COMPLETELY READY NOW GET OUT OF OUR HEADS OR WE’LL BE DEAD! Zavra shouted back.
Okay, okay. The guards walked closer, slightly circled the motionless party with mild worry. In their heads the sounds of a scuffle broke out and indistinct yelling filtered through. They’ve caught me! I’m done!
“Hey, what’s wrong guys?” one of the guards reached out towards Artorius. Them screamed internally.
Good luck… his voice grew fainter, echoing, as if he were physically distancing himself. One last scream resounded within their minds and they were free. Artorius looked up in to the horrified face of a guard who had just shaken him, dispelling the illusion magic and showing Artorius in all his scaly glory.
The two guards backed up, drawing their swords, measuring the whole group. One turned aside and called for help, his voice amplified magically to be heard within the complex.
“Play dead if the chance arises.” Kaedri said to Artorius, using sound distortion magic to limit it to his hearing.
The nameless gnome stepped towards the guards, his hands held across his chest as he tried to buy time and sow more confusion amongst the guard duo.
“Hey hey, why are you attacking?”
“He’s not one of us!”
“He’s not one of us?!”
“Are YOU even one of us?”
“Well how can we trust YOU if even the House of Baenre has intruders within its walls?”
“How. DARE you question us,” Zavra stated. She walked forward and brought her bonk rod to bear on Artorius’ face. Arty dropped like a rock. Zavra held out her hand and insisted the guards verify that she was under no spell. They did so and promptly sent out a follow up cancellation on their request for backup.
“We shall deal with this ourselves. Males! Carry the infiltrator, we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”
Perrin and the nameless gnome went to go drag Artorius but Sky stepped in front of them and shook her head, calling Poppy over to help carry him instead. Perrin began to dispute but Sky coldly told him to know his place.
Them marched hurriedly out of sight and dumped Arty down and Sky explained that the images of drow superimposed over both the Halfling and the Gnome would not have sustained through the two shorties carrying Artorius out. Perrin continued to pout.
Composing themselves, they stowed their Baenre gear and sauntered to the slums. Zavra peeled off from the group and got in the face of a hapless drunkard. Threats did little to loosen his lips, but coin did, and the group learnt that their wayward “captured” elf husband rather eloped to Menzoberranzan with his Drow consort.
Kaedri sent a magical message to the elf women summoning them to the slums. An awkward wait later they reunited and headed towards the safest place Zavra knew of – her old house, the estate of House Devir.
Away from the other, livelier areas within Menzoberranzan, Zavra lead them towards a distinctly dark quadrant. No lights illuminated the mansion atop a slight hill, the only proof that a structure resided there at all the hint of a silhouette. Eery silence lay thick in the air as they walked up to a huge door that hung ajar. As Zavra confidently stepped through, brushing aside webs, she gave off airs of nonchalance. Still, she stood a moment in the doorway. Drinking in the stillness. Awash in memories.
After everyone was inside Artorius closed the door as best he could and cracked a sunrod. Turning to the elf women Zavra began “We have some bad news. See-” She broke off quickly and stared at her chaos shard. “Hold on, I need to take this.”
Them waited tensely as Zavra paced and seemed uncharacteristically worried, each step growing slightly more erratic. After a few minutes she returned to the group.
“Okay, guys, I have some bad news. For you,” she pointed to the women, “and for all of us too. For us, our objective has changed, congratulations we killed Quenthel, Baenre is in disarray, we’re doing good work but now we have to ensure that all of Baenre is wiped out while ALSO defending this city from the invading army of Thay or we’re all going to die. As for you guys, your husband – your brother – voluntarily ran away into the arms of a House Baenre woman. To be clear: Your husband is cheating on you with a drow. He wasn’t kidnapped, he eloped.”
“You’re LYING,” the elf wife spat at Zavra.
“They don’t take elves alive. You know it’s true.” Poppy murmured quietly.
After running through various denials, the wife slumped to her knees in defeat.
Sky knelt in front of her and tilted her head to stare in to each other’s eyes.
“I know… That you are willing to be shattered. I understand. I’ve lost so many people, my whole family. I thought that I wanted to die. I almost did. But I lived, and you will live too. I have this reminder,” she pulled her scarf down to show the scar stretching around her neck, “every day. Your scars will be less visible, but they will hurt, every day, all the time. But you can’t give up, you are stronger than this; the pain will dull and you will live. You will flourish, and rebuild, and be happy again. Besides, I think there is someone else who still needs you around.”
Sky looked aside and following her gaze, the elven wife locked eyes with her sister in law.
The elves embraced tightly for a few seconds before the wife pushed her sister in law off.
“I need a drink.”
Perrin was happy to oblige and the party settled in to rest before their large battle.
An hour later after resting within the Feywild’s separate time the group set out, rested up and freshly disguised.
As the party crested a deserted hilltop, below they beheld the first, most obvious way in to the city, that the forces of Thay would have to come through to destroy the city. A huge cave entrance, a large road that could hold forty men across. The drow forces, impressive and lethal, ready to defend their city…. Were nowhere to be seen. Not a soul lay within view, but the ground slightly shook from the advancing forces. They could spill in to the cave at any moment.
“They’re all busy taking over House Baenre… the IDIOTS.” Zavra clenched and unclenched her fists. “New plan, guys. We hold these guys off… Then go wipe out Baenre so that we’ll actually have backup.”
Them stood alone, the only bastion against an entire oncoming army.