Hess'zrin

Nyanis Reclamation

The Denouement

Hours pass in Aethuainn Nyanis’s study; a liveried duergar slave brings fungal wine and mushroom delicacies to tide you over, but you’re otherwise left alone to while away the time. Packed with sculptures, scrolls, books, bottles, phials, strange devices, oddments, and shelves crammed with a mad assortment of miscellany, the study holds plenty to occupy a curious mind. [If there’s anything you’d like to do or study in particular, please make a forum topic!]

Cases of military regalia, maps, and mementos from various campaigns crowd the walls: Nyanis was well-decorated in his time. His worn face hinted at great age, but the history in the cases nonetheless startles: a framed commendation cites the young drow’s “fierce cunning” in a battle at the ruins of Phaerxlit dating nearly 900 years ago, a pyrrhic victory after which the Matriarchs considered Phaerxlit (now the Beholder city of Boolthul) well and truly lost. A quick survey reveals, somewhat surprisingly for a wizard, that Nyanis was a career officer for almost two hundred years before retiring with distinction to serve his House.

Nyanis’s eventual return is as understated as was his departure. His eyes narrow slightly as he studies you for a moment, but his face remains placid and his voice quiet.

“Matron Orsinia spoke with the Council. For one newly raised to the role, she acquitted herself…serviceably.” Nyanis’s tone offers neither approval nor criticism. “The Matriarchs appeared to accept her elevation at its surface value, though they questioned her heavily. Orsinia can expect no future quarter.”

Nyanis produces a flask from a voluminous sleeve and sips sparingly. “The revelation of a captive Handmaiden alarmed them, as one might expect. The Matriarchs dispatched a cabal of priestesses to the compound to investigate.” He inhales slightly and sighs. “Please forgive me for leaving you alone for so long. There were matters at the compound requiring my attention.” He pauses for a half a beat before continuing. “I wished to ensure the site was secured for visitors.” His face radiates a sincerity as warm and comforting as Darkfire. “It would not do at all, for example, for them to have accidentally stumbled upon an unsecured supply of ritual components…or these.” He clears a pile of scrolls from the corner of a table and sets a plain rothé-leather valise on it. Glass clinks together softly within. [200gp worth of ritual components, three vials of Deathjump Spider venom, and a ritual book containing Arcane Mark, Brew Potion, and Fastidiousness.]

He sighs again, more deeply this time. “The Matriarchs have declared a formal inquest into the matter. You will be required to testify before them momentarily. I trust the past few hours have been…restful.” He considers each of you for a moment. “The Matriarchs will ply you with questions; they will ask the same questions many times in different ways. As you can guess, they seek to entrap you and gain advantage. The best protection against their venomous webs is to speak no lie, and to answer only the question put to you.”

His gaze lingers on Krizzt for a moment. “Should you face the choice, do not seek to preserve any save yourselves and each other. Any nobility you display will serve only to weaken you. Best to preserve such impulses for those who best know their worth.” His gaze unfocuses momentarily before retraining on all of you.

“An attitude of healthy fear may shield you somewhat. The Matriarchs are used to dealing with males less self-possessed than you, and may interpret your competence as defiance.” The corners of his eyes crease faintly as he regards Kelthrae. “Your instincts no doubt are solid.

“Your escort arrives in minutes. Until then, I will answer what questions I can. Niknevin’s commands died with her, and I may now be more forthcoming. If it interests you, I can shed some light as to her orders and the old compound’s past decade.” He waits expectantly. [Please post any questions to the forum.]

Eventually, a soft knock at the study door draws Nyanis’s attention: a slave arrives with word that a detachment of the Matriarchal Guard waits without to escort you to the temple. He signals his assent, then turns to you.

“We will speak more when you return. May shadows keep you.”

Comments

As soon as he’s left to his own devices, Ten’zrin scrawls a note to his sister Narith and commandeers the first servant he sees to see about delivering it. ‘Sister: Unavoidably detained at Nyanis compound. Please send my unfinished projects for the next few days and my sketchbook by way of this messenger. The unmarried sisters of House Maelrubhe attended in identical A-line sea foam dresses and were the talk of the party. Buy every yard of sea foam fabric you can get your hands on, and no, that leftover cerulean is not good enough’. He will then proceed to completely ignore everything in the study in favor of getting the latest designs onto paper before he forgets them.

As Nyanis asks about answering questions, Ten’zrin will say. a little sullenly: ‘All right, I’ll bite. That compound wasn’t just infested, it was a war zone. What the hell happened over there?’

Nyanis Reclamation
 

Ten’zrin

[Nyanis will direct the same liveried duergar slave to collect and carry any dispatches to their destination. Results of your notations on fashion and purchase orders will be forthcoming.]

‘All right, I’ll bite. That compound wasn’t just infested, it was a war zone. What the hell happened over there?’

“I gather from the opposition I and the House guards faced on the way in that you took the shortcut through the slave quarters and bypassed the top-floor Halls—an efficient course that I suspect did nothing to illuminate recent history in the old compound.” Nyanis’ gaze turns inward for a moment as he considers.

“Had you fought your way through the Halls, you would have discovered the wreckage of my observatory equipment lying in the midst of the Family Hall, where it lay after being dragged from its proper placement.” Aethuainn’s lips thin with distaste. “The unique confluence of environmental factors in this area of the Sea Cavern affect not only this world, but the worlds that lie near us—the Primordial Chaos in particular. The radiation storms that regularly erupt at the ceiling provide a unique window into that realm’s intrinsic nature and properties. Other realms are also perceptible, but the Primordial Chaos is the most easily observable.”

Nyanis sips from his flask and continues. “I built a set of observational equipment that capitalizes on specialized applications of a ritual regularly used to transverse the realms. If any of you are so inclined, perhaps in time you could be taught its rudiments.” His smile is faint but unmistakable before fading entirely.

“Enter Niknevin.” Nyanis’s face and voice are calmly composed.

“My heir in curiosity and innovation, she inherited her mother’s unbridled ambition. When she assumed the mantle of Matron, she showed intellect and daring, and grew a reputation for cunning. Her early successes emboldened her, but where wisdom and caution might have tempered others’ more dangerous endeavors, the late Matron Nyanis knew little discipline and less moderation.

“She grew more controlling over time. Not content merely to push me to the margins and attempt to sideline my influence, she burned with resentment that I possessed what she desired: arcane power and the respect of my peers, two qualities that come only with age, time, and careful dedication.

“Eager to expand her power in novel ways and desiring to break the customary channels of ascent, Niknevin commanded that I dedicate more and more of my resources to her ambitions. Ever loyal to my House, of course I complied. Soon, however, my compliance grew insufficient. She demanded that I teach her, and when such lessons did not produce results quickly enough, seized my library for herself and began experimenting.

“Convinced that the favor of the Spider Queen would bolster her success, she attempted to transform arcane rituals into religious rites that drew on the goddess’s power. Her results were impressive in a theoretical sense but utter failures in a practical one. She grew increasingly certain that she could transform my observatory into a prison, snaring a denizen of the Abyss and subjugating its power and knowledge, thereby advancing her reach even more rapidly. Thus, Niknevin laid a trap, hoping to ensnare a minor demon to her will.

“Niknevin succeeded beyond her wildest dreams: she captured a Handmaiden.

“Though I speculate, in the end I do not know what its initial intent in visiting Niknevin was. Was it an emissary of the goddess’s interest, pleasure, or pique? Was it darkly curious in its own right, as such dread beings sometimes are? What is clear is only the results: unexpectedly captured and enraged, the yochlol began straining against its bonds.

“Its struggles rippled beyond this world and into the planes. Dretches began arriving through the usurped observatory: I would often find one or two scraping ineffectually at the prison’s boundary. Then, others arrived. They became increasingly difficult to suppress. Always, the Handmaiden raged within its captivity: its cries, threats, and horrible weeping echoed throughout the compound. Several slaves were driven to suicide by the incessant nightmares its poorly-contained presence visited on us all.

“Meanwhile, the assaults grew worse. Demons began swarming in numbers, and members of the House fell to the assaults. Then, the devils arrived.”

Nyanis’ face grows grim in memory. “Open warfare between the Hells and the Abyss erupted in the compound. I martialed the remainder of the House militia and commanded all survivors to stage a retreat. Shaped charges were laid and the bridge destroyed.

“For months from afar, we watched the combat rage in glimpses. The prize of a captive yochlol kept the carnage from straying from the compound. In time, it grew quiet. We kept a nervous vigil and hoped that the conflict had died out. Stubborn to the last, Niknevin held out for her own hapless victory.

“Expeditions to the old compound were at first devoured, then subsequently repelled. The Handmaiden remained below. Eventually, even Niknevin realized its escape—and her own doom—were inevitable. Her plans for greatness thwarted, she commanded me to banish the yochlol.” Nyanis exhales briefly, quietly…the drow equivalent of a snort of disgust.

“Owing to the religious nature of the containing circle and the particular mistakes Niknevin made in creating it, I could do no more than lay down a new containment, one that would provide an avenue of escape from this world for any extraplanar beings caught within it…an avenue that could be resisted but would grow more compelling over time. I believe you witnessed the result.”

Nyanis ruminates aloud. “The portals used to power the equipment have been snuffed out. I suspect you encountered the remains of the assault forces trapped when the gates closed, the magics used to power the observatory diverted from their courses to the point of failure. I had not considered the possibility that such specialized enchantments could be wrested from their purpose. What you encountered was the result of just such a usurpation.”

Nyanis regards you evenly.

Nyanis Reclamation
 

Kelthrae passes his time in Nyanis’ study in quiet contemplation. Truth be told, he had expected rank betrayal from the elder Drow, and it required significant adjustment to even consider the fact that he might actually come to trust the man who had once poisoned him as a casual display of dominance.

Though Nyanis easily held the advantage both in personal power and in influence, there was a ring of truth in his earlier words, that each one of them held the power to implicate and ruin the others. And whereas Kelthrae’s brothers-in-arms might be send before the dubious mechanisms of justice for their crimes, it would be an apathetic, if merciless proceeding. With the exception of Munin and Azimuth, none of them came from particularly influential clans, or were held in high regard within those clans.

But Nyanis! The line of those willing to lay him low was long indeed. Kelthrae instinctively understood that part of the very functioning of the Llothian Matriarchy demanded that males who grew too much in power and influence needed to fall. He had little doubt that while he and his friends might be expendable to the elder drow’s designs, they risked less than he, in the long run.

When their erstwhile host returns, Kelthrae is become deeply engaged in a close examination of his maps, in some cases tracing the passage of Nyanis’ service through examinations of his citations and the locations of the battles in question. He also looks for evidence of the nature and duration of Nyanis and Trevenin’s service together, using his personal knowledge of his old patrons’ history to supply the gaps if necessary.

When he and Nyanis lock gazes again there is a tempering in the young bard’s expression, as if he’s formed a conclusion or two about their host, both in terms of his history and his personal culpability. It is a far more business-like Kelthrae that tidily packs up the things he was examining, and moves to attend the old wizard.

He nods sagely at the advice given, and at the offer of further explanations he listens intently as the tale unfolds. At the mention of a ritual to be learned, Kelthrae nods vaguely, but does not speak up, so as to keep the narrative undiluted.

When the story is finished, he breathes out softly. “Ten years,” he says, wonder coloring his tone. “The Handmaiden was trapped there that long. It is a faint miracle that the opposing forces that vied for her canceled each other out as effectively as they did.” He looks momentarily askance on the point, as if ‘miracles’, like ‘coincidences’, are merely synonyms for purposeful machination.

But he sees no benefit to pursuing the point. If Nyanis somehow arranged to balance the assaulting forces, and thus buying time, he could hardly fault the man. If some other force did so, it was through a means and for a purpose that was far less apparent.

Nyanis Reclamation
 

Azimuth will look over the various artifacts, citations, scrolls, and maps with desultory boredom. When Nyanis returns and appears open to questions, Azimuth will listen with visible impatience to the narrative of the compound and how it came to be what it was. When Kelthrae makes his comment about the devils and demons effectively canceling each other, Azimuth will add: “It appeared as if they were conversing quite congenially when we arrived.” His own question, however, will be asked quietly but with greater intensity:

“What is your intention toward us? While I acknowledge and respect the necessities behind the manipulations that freed you from the constraints of your former Matron, and understand the desire to keep us safe from attempts to taint our testimony before the Council in ways that might be to your detriment, will your use for us end when the Council completes it deliberation or were you serious when you offered `patronage?’ And what form do you anticipate this patronage taking, and to what end? Is the restoration of the General really the only thing motivating you here?”

This sequence of questions is asked with an apparent expectation that no Drow would ever actually give a complete and honest answer, but he seems interested nonetheless in how Nyanis chooses to answer.

Nyanis Reclamation
 

Kelthrae

When their erstwhile host returns, Kelthrae is become deeply engaged in a close examination of his maps, in some cases tracing the passage of Nyanis’ service through examinations of his citations and the locations of the battles in question.

Apart from a host of routine commendations for things like length of service and other incidents of a long tenure, the citations that stand out most:

  • “Fierce Cunning” in the final battle of Phaerxlit. The prose is flowery and difficult to penetrate, but despite the battle resulting in a loss, the vellum directly cites dozens of drow soldiers’ lives saved and devastating casualties to the enemy through what are obliquely referred to as “unorthodox tactics.”
  • “Ruthlessness in Service to the Spider Queen” dating to a campaign ~830 years ago against the duergar of Fimbulspeirrn, specifically for assassinating King Grimmguer in front of his generals as part of an elite strike team. (The death of King Grimmguer ended Fimbulspeirrn’s last expansionist dynasty and normalized trade relations between Fimbulspeirrn and Hess’zrin.) Several other commendations from this campaign surround it.
  • “Ruthlessness in Service to the Spider Queen” dating to a campaign ~490 years ago against a Vampire Lord in the ruins of the Xerius Enclave. The citation mentions “heavy casualties”, and a special ribbon border denoting “extraordinary service”—probably for coming out of retirement to do it.
  • A half-wall-ful of commendations from numerous campaigns against the aboleths of Shub Glothoth, all bordered by ribbons of “extraordinary service”, beginning ~320 years ago. The last citation is dated ~100 years ago.

He also looks for evidence of the nature and duration of Nyanis and Trevenin’s service together, using his personal knowledge of his old patrons’ history to supply the gaps if necessary.

Despite what you know to have been a long and storied career for both Nyanis and Chruz in the aboleth wars, the walls are conspicuously devoid of any joint citations, and of anything that mentions Chruz officially. The depth of your scrutiny reveals that while most frames have resided in their present locations for some time, there are less-faded spots indicating that commendations from the aboleth wars may have been re-arranged in the last 50 years or so.

There is only one joint mention of Aethuainn Nyanis and Teverin Chruz you can find. It appears not on any official vellum, but on an old, faded campaign map from a sortie against an aboleth hatchery. Two sets of handwriting dot the margins and denote troop movements and enemy emplacements. The notations appear to have been made over several years, and the two commanders’ signatures appear to have been appended in celebratory commemoration after victory was final. It appears to have been an early battle in the campaign, dating to about ~300 years ago.

Nyanis Reclamation
 

Azimuth

When Kelthrae makes his comment about the devils and demons effectively canceling each other, Azimuth will add: “It appeared as if they were conversing quite congenially when we arrived.”

“Were they?” Nyanis’ voice is diffident but his fleeting glance contains unmistakable surprise…and perhaps a hint of unease. “How remarkable.”

“What is your intention toward us? While I acknowledge and respect the necessities behind the manipulations that freed you from the constraints of your former Matron, and understand the desire to keep us safe from attempts to taint our testimony before the Council in ways that might be to your detriment, will your use for us end when the Council completes it deliberation or were you serious when you offered `patronage?’”

“That depends on whether you are sufficiently self-possessed to avoid scuttling yourselves in front of the Council.” His smile remains solely below his eyes.

“Should all proceed well, I assure you, I am quite serious. By demonstrating a certain…facility for direct action, and by removing the single greatest obstacle to my plans, you have rendered yourselves notably useful. I did not secure nearly a millenium of life by forgetting those who aid me, or by giving them cause to resent the measure of my gratitude. If you survive the Council without compromising yourselves, I anticipate a mutually fruitful acquaintance.”

“And what form do you anticipate this patronage taking, and to what end?”

“I happen to have some real estate in need of renovation and caretaking. I was hoping you might be up to the task.

“There are other options, as well, to be discussed after your interrogation concludes. It would not do to have your minds preoccupied before a Council possessing a marked propensity for invasive questioning. However, I suspect that more than one of you may be dissatisfied at the thought of a future devoted solely to the advancement of the Matrons at your own expense.”

“Is the restoration of the General really the only thing motivating you here?”

Nyanis regards you with a mix of mild amusement and artful incredulity. “You do remember my first words to you as a group, I hope.”

Nyanis Reclamation
ophanim ophanim

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