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.”

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Welcome to Hess'zrin
Annals and Occurences

Summaries go here.

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Inauspicious Beginnings
Or, Why I Hate Parties

Seriously. Before I showed up at the Nyanis compound last night, I didn’t have a problem in the world ten plat couldn’t solve, and that was on its way. Since then, I’ve barely dodged electrocution, outing, an all-expenses paid trip to the Abyss, and a decent amount of garden-variety being-hacked-to-bits. Next on the agenda is a Matriarchal inquest.

I really hate Aethuainn Nyanis.

I’m writing this in his study, on a few scraps of paper I begged off of one of the duergar ‘for sketching’. I’ll slip them somewhere they won’t be noticed for a few weeks. I’ll pick them back up again after the inquest, but on the oh-so-slight chance that they chop off my head or feed me to the myconids, it’ll just lay around here until a servant does some more intensive dusting. (Note to servant: Trust me, you can parlay this into serious cash if you take it to the right people, and since if you’re reading this, he’s gotten me killed, I personally recommend someone else.)

Anyway! It all started at a lovely party celebrating Niknevin Nyanis’s ascension to her current, er, previous, position. Food, dancers, obscene displays of wealth, same old same old. Aethuainn had nosed it around in certain circles that it was also to be a gathering for ‘like-minded souls’. Which means flaming queers. Because Aethuainn Nyanis is a flaming queer. I repeat for the sake of clarity and whichever of his enemies is reading this, Aethuainn Nyanis is a flaming queer.

You’d think this would mean that I should avoid it like the plague, but these upper-crusters are so obsessed with raising paranoia to an art form that NOT showing up would be cause for suspicion. Narith would have none of my missing an opportunity to mine the beautiful people for new designs, and I could always try to pick up a little side business while I was there.

So there I am, filling my pouch up with these little puffed mushroom things, when Aethuainn himself taps me on the shoulder and asks me to meet him up in his study in about an hour to discuss some private security matter.

Ok, gotta admit I misinterpreted that one.

I get up there, and it’s Aethuainn, four other nobles, and a chamber orchestra. The orchestra was a new touch, but it quickly became clear that, first off, he actually DID want to talk about security, and secondly, I actually knew all four of these guys, from the good old military days.

It’s probably ridiculously facetious of me not to name them here, since they’re all about to head into the inquest with me, but they didn’t have any more choice in what happened last night than I did, so I’ve got no interest in bringing them down. Plus, from what I could remember, they were mostly ok. Not friends (if nobles even know what a friend is), but not assholes. There was a swordmage, and a bard, and an assassin, and a sorcerer. That’ll do for now.

Aethuainn starts in on this little cloak-and-dagger routine that the rest of my new friends just eat up with a spoon. He’s got the goods on us, and he wants us to go over to the abandoned compound and…ok, he doesn’t exactly say, but it’s probably not renovating the upholstery.

One lizard ride later and we’re over at the keep. We scout around outside, but all the doors are locked except the main entrance. Also, there’s some kind of eerie glowing light coming from the lowest level. Back to the main entrance it is, and hey, surprise, this place is full of demons. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who believes discretion is the better part of not getting clawed to death, and the assassin and the bard do some kind of two-step that envelops us in this shadowy cloud. We get about two levels down without them even noticing we’re there. So far so good.

At this point, though, we get stopped full on in what seems to have been the Matron’s chambers by a bunch of lighting-shooting beetle demon things. This isn’t too much of a concern, since my companions aren’t too shabby in the making-stuff-die department. (Note to self: how did Aethuainn know I’d been keeping my skills up? Suddenly very creeped out.)

So then, because my night wasn’t weird enough already, a bunch of empty suits of armor come clanging through one of the other doors, and start attacking both us AND the beetle-demon-things. This is apparently, as the sorcerer explained to me when everything stopped twitching, because the suits of armor were devils and the beetles were demons. So ok, that’s weird.

We get to the observatory, and there’s what must be a magic circle (not that I’d generally know, but it WAS glowing) with a yochlol in it.

In retrospect, assuming it wouldn’t try to eat my face off was probably not my finest hour.

Suffice to say, there were more things that needed stabbing, and another ritual that was letting someone see what we were doing. The sorcerer managed to weaken the yochlol somehow, I don’t know what he was doing but she didn’t seem to like it much.

Ok, this is the part I’m still not sure I get. There was ONE circle, and it was kind of crappy. Then around that was ANOTHER, less-crappy circle, designed to kick in when the first circle finally broke, which happened, um, right after I tried to rush past the yochlol to turn the skull around and she rooted me to the ground.

So I get this funny buzzy feeling in the pit of my stomach and panic must have kicked my adrenalin reserves in, because I manage to break free of the thing and get halfway up the stairs. And nearly collide with Niknevin Nyanis. She shoos me out of the way with your typical Matron manner, like they smell something bad, and walks into the other room. (The weird feeling went away when I got out of the circle. Lucky me.)

Hey, I guess the yochlol could move once the circle was broken too.

I want it on record that I did everything I could to save her. I know that probably doesn’t count for anything, but I’d been in its grasp and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. The reactions of the rest of the party…disappointed me, if that’s possible for people I’ve barely met. The swordmage seemed to try to help, but the rest of them just let it have her. And by that I mean the other, not-crappy circle lit up and the yochlol, and Matron Nyanis, were both suddenly bound for parts unknown but probably horrible.

And then I had a completely different funny buzzy feeling in the pit of my stomach, given how close it was to being me.

Aethuainn and his guards show up, just seconds too late to be any use. He marches us back to the castle, and now we’re back here, and I’m trying really hard not to eat any of his food.

So, your honor, there is no doubt in my mind that Aethuainn Nyanis had his daughter assassinated. And me too, if you’re reading this. Of course, if I’m wrong and I manage to somehow survive the next half hour, I may have to rethink my position on the guy. He’s got to know we could bring him down at any moment; why would he risk telling us so much?

Who are we kidding? I’m a dead man. Let him fry, your honor.

Love and kisses,
Ten’zrin do’Brin-Ur
That tailor guy who was executed right after Niknevin died

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Game 2: From Within and Without

After presenting Nyanis’s writ, The Indigo Company is properly registered: your mercenary company is official. As mercenaries, you have no recourse to the formal protection of your Houses…but perhaps that’s just as well. You do, however, enjoy the benefit of freedom from conscription in the event that levies are raised.

Aethuainn Nyanis eyes you with interest when you return. “I take it the alarm at the docks was your work. Please, tell me everything.”

[Do you follow through on your plan to show him the squamous parasite in the bucket?]

Loot from the encounter:

One level 5 magic item each: As part of formally severing ties, the Noble PCs’ Houses offer you “measures of good will,” awaiting you upon your return to the Nyanis household. Ten’zrin, on the other hand, receives a bribe as a species of hush money for not outing a client.

Rituals: Aethuainn Nyanis has set aside two items for Kelthrae that he thinks might be of interest: volume one of a comprehensive series on magical forbiddances (Arcane Lock); and sheet music for a song that, as you hum it, proves powerfully soporific (Lullaby).

Ritual Components (300g): The abolethic creatures’ mucus resonates with arcane energy, and makes a potent (if abjectly disgusting) ingredient for ritual magics.

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The Boys in Indigo

Today I was not summarily sacrified to the spider queen. Calling that a win.

I still sort of hate Aethuainn Nyanis, but I have to agree with him on one point. This city is far too divided to withstand a coordinated assault. Something, I’m afraid, will have to be done.

The inquisiton went about as well as could be expected; my companions nearly babbled us into execution several times, but we were saved by a timely radiation spike from the depths that spontaneously advanced the development of several dozen myconids, which proved to be a bit of a distraction (I suspect Nyanis), and also by the fact that the Matriarchal Council had little to no interest in the actual matter at hand, except as it could serve to advance their own personal agendas, most of which are opaque to me. The inquest ended in a stalemate when several of the major House’s delegations stormed out theatrically (they correlated quite nicely with the Houses of my companions; not that I expect their relatives have any actual love for them, but it must be nice to have powerful people’s fates tied to your own).

We all had to lie twice: Once when they asked if we were faithful servants of Lloth, and once when they asked if we were queers. (That was kind of out of nowhere, actually. I’d be a little disturbed except that honestly, if the kind of folks we’re talking about here want us convicted, actually being innocent would probably not be a sufficient defense.)

They decided they were done with us and it was time to start fighting with each other, so they let us leave. Hopefully they’ll find some other toy to play with before they remember we’re still alive. The nobles are all cut loose from their houses, of course. I expected them to take it harder; Azimuth is practically giddy, for Azimuth. If they’re still so cheerful about it when we’re starving to death three days’ march from the city remains to be seen.

Because Nyanis (I’m just calling him Nyanis now; he’s made it perfectly clear that the power of his House rests in his person, not his daughter’s. I almost pity Orsinia.) is willing to go to some expense to get us established as a mercenary company. I trust him about as far as I can throw him, but I’ve gotten as far as I have by staying off the radar, and that’s been blown all to hell. Laying low and getting out of the city for a bit may be the best thing.

Which is how we ended up on the docks during the aboleth assault.

I don’t know if there’s much to say about the fight itself. Most of the actual city guards were sleeping off the myconid fight, so it was the five of us against a thankfully weak strike force. The only thing of note was a large…thing that managed to be even grosser than abolethic skum, which is saying something. It waddled towards us and when we finally brought it down, it split in two and these two-three feet long maggoty things all climbed out of it. They had faces. Like illithids.

I think illitholeth has a better ring to it than abolid. Just in case you’re reading this hundreds of years after my entire city has been slaughtered and you’re looking for a technical term to put into your dissertation.

Troops showed up just as we finished off the last of them. Matron Shalzress was in the lead, and she took her soldiers off to face yet more terrifying things. (This is the thing about Nyanis that has me worried. Divided as we are, in the event of an emergency, we can’t afford to dismiss half our population. Either half.)

Anyway, Indigo Company is open for business. I asked Nyanis who he wanted us to kill and he said nobody, then suggested we go slaughter some grimlocks. So that’s probably the plan.

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Hollowdrum Aftermath
Lootz etc.

(from Matthew Smith via Facebook)

LOOT Ritual: Purify Water [Arcane]

Hollowdrum appears generally poor in resources. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Grimlocks have a different standard for what constitutes value than just about every other race in the Underdark. As victors in combat, you’re awarded potable food and water…apparently quite an honor. Additionally, you’re offered fetishes and trinkets with interesting textures, that make interesting sounds, or smell interesting.

The Oracle’s main task, what makes her so valuable (and Hollowdrum possible at all), is to cast Purify Water every day. The village’s daily water supply is drawn from a small but reliable spring that, absent the Oracle’s intervention, is horribly poisonous. (The Oracle will offhandedly mention having to mercykill a dozen Grimlock young who drank the water and became drooling idiots.) The Oracle is happy to teach her version of the Purify Water ritual. It is simple enough that it can be readily adapted to Arcane or Nature, rather than Religion-based casting. You’re pretty sure that requesting ritual components would get you airholed by paragon-tier adult Grimlocks protecting their water supply.

Ten’zrin observes that Grimlocks, though sightless, follow certain texture-based conventions in what little clothing they wear. Inspiration strikes: next season’s fad! The possibilities for textured drow fashions unfold in sordid, chafing glory.

After 24 hours, Azimuth and Krizzt both notice themselves growing distinctly ill at ease. An annoying, edgy buzz permeates your hearing just below the audible range…

Kelthrae is welcomed among the drummers, pressganging him into a week-long jam session. At the end, they’ve stripmined him for songs, offered many of their own, and between violent disputes over who keeps fucking up the downbeat, work with Kelthrae to create new rhythms of remarkable, primal complexity. Kelthrae suspects he may be able to single-handedly guarantee a new musical style in Hess’zrin for decades to come.

The pounding beat of Hollowdrum throbs incessantly. You are guested for a week, during which you rack up an impressive collection of bruises, scrapes, sprains, and dislocations from the Grimlocks’ social interaction. (Those who find rough trade appealing are well-situated and will be able to score some serious poontang among the likeminded in Hess’zrin upon your return.) During this time Galina and Secret Egg are pronounced mates, the culmination of which appears to be an ultraviolent round between the newlyweds of Who Rapes Who.

Sexually, Grimlocks are opportunistic, status-based, and extraordinarily vocal. Same-sex pairings, when they occur, enjoy the same treatment as any other tryst—namely, beatings, bloodletting, and fending off rivals mid-coitus. Initially, males and females prod you with frank sexual interest and fondle you in ways that drow society would consider an invitation to open murder…but to a one, after the initial intrusive interest, the Grimlocks seem uninterested in you as prospective mates. Apparently screwing drow offers no advance in clan status, and you are judged too fragile for Grimlock tastes. Perhaps distressingly, the Grimlocks decide that properly interacting with you involves sniffing your armpits and licking the sweat off of any exposed skin. They do this before and after every non-trivial social interaction.

Of the Indigo Company, only Munin is left alone. Apparently his scent is sufficiently disquieting to ward off any social interest whatsoever. Social interactions are awkward, with the Grimlocks usually choosing to flee rather than remain nearby.

At the conclusion of your guesting, the Oracle pulls you aside to speak privately. She asks, hesitantly, somberly: “Did the Black-Skinned Knife succeed at his task? Did he breach the veil?” Inquiry reveals that the Grimlocks’ oral history of Nyanis records him approaching the first Oracle to acquire something of value: the Salts of Unknowing. (Huh?)

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