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12 September 2016 @ 07:04 pm
Dorchadas Plays Baldur's Gate II, Part XXVI: Vault of the Drow  
And so the party enters Ust Natha, stronghold of the dark elves.

Immediately on entering, I see a pair of githyanki standing around, a drow off to the side, and another drow berating a duergar slave for not properly working. When the duergar pleads for mercy, saying he hasn't eaten in a week, the drow beats him to death. Then a drow priestess walks up and asks what is happening, the drow says that the slave was misbehaving and was punished. The priestess snarls that the slave was her property, not his, and that the slave was well-trained and will be harder to replace than he will. Then she executes him, simply saying:
"I have other sons."
So that's the kind of society that Chiyo and the party has to infiltrate.

The drow off to the side is a spell merchant so I buy a few scrolls, including another scroll of ruby ray of reversal, and have Imoen learn it so I have two sources of dispel when facing an enemy with spell immunity. Then I head north to meet Solaufein at the Male Fighter's Society.

Solaufein is not pleased to see me:
Solaufein: "Ah, you are the newcomers that have been sent my way, I see. As if I do not have enough to accomplish in a day without suffering for the welfare of the weak. There is no 'refuge' to be had in Ust Natha, fools. We pay for our existence here with blood and you shall do the same. My name is Solaufein, and for now you shall do as I say to prove your worth to the Matron Mothers. Failure is death. And just because you are female, do not think to challenge me. You are a foreigner here, and no better than a slave until the Matron Mothers think otherwise. Pfeh! I suppose I should get your shepherding underway. Have you a name, vagrant? Or should I simply refer to you as the female?"
Chiyo: "My name is Veldrin, and I demand the respect I am due!"
Solaufein: "Hah! You shall get none from me, regardless of your achievements in Ched Nasad! But your spirit may serve you well in Ust Natha, if you know when to show it. No matter. One of the Matron Mothers has taken an interest in your arrival and wishes to avail herself of your skills. She has sent a Handmaiden to speak with you at the entrance platform to the city. I shall be there, no doubt, to herd you on your mission like a nursing mother. I will go to seek her out now. If you are intelligent, you will go to the entrance platform quickly. The Handmaidens are notoriously impatient."
Xan: "From this moment on, we shall be watched night and day. Let us not disappoint the Matron Mothers, shall we?"
Jaheira: "We must be subservient, Chiyo. To them we are lesser Drow and no doubt under suspicion. Any sign of disobedience would would scrutiny upon us. The Drow have a harsh culture, one I am not overly familiar with. We must harden our hearts if we are to blend in. The alternative is discovery and death."
That's a cheery line of thought, but Jaheira is right. There's no way the six of us can take on an entire city of drow. The party's only hope is to remain undiscovered or suffer slow, horrific torture and probably sacrifice to Lolth.

Against the Devourers
I head down to the front gates and speak to Solaufein and the priestess of Lolth, Imrae. Imrae spends some time insulting Chiyo for daring to be in another drow city--drow base everything around membership in a House, and outside of Ched Nasad, "Veldrin" has no backing from her House--and then Solaufein explains the mission:
Solaufein: "Ahh, it is about time you came. Handmaiden Imrae almost set priestesses on you, to lash your ankles with the tentacle rods to hurry you along! But you are here, now. A Matron Mother has designated a task for you. Imrae, favored of Lolth, these are the travelers from Ched Nasad."
Imrae: Your story has been verified so far, Veldrin of Ched Nasad, and that is why you have not been sold as a lowly slave or made an amusement in the tavern...but you still have no place, here! You are fortunate, indeed, that many of our finest warriors are busy with...preparations. Elsewhere. Fortunate enough that a Matron Mother has decided to make use of you. Cling to that sole hope, worms, and do not fail the Matron Mother...for if you do, the horrors of your punishment shall be far more terrible than had we beset you at the gate! Explain what has occurred, Solaufein. And be quick about it, male, for the Spider Queen demands my attention."
Solaufein: "At once, Handmaiden. If I were to speak of the devourers, Veldrin... you would know what of I speak, yes?"
Chiyo: "You mean the illithid? Yes, I know what they are."
Solaufein: "Yes, I believe that is the name they call themselves...very intelligent of you. The psions have long been one of our fiercest enemies. A Matron Mother's eldest daughter ran afoul of devourers while scouting. Her fool companions fled or were slaughtered, and she was taken captive. They know a prize when they have one, the devourers. They will bring the daughter to their city, and should they reach it she shall be lost forever. With the...preparations...of the armies, we are the only ones who can intercept these devourers. We must go to their cavern entrance and wait for them. Handmaiden Imrae has given me a blessed item of Lolth that will pull the devourers from their astral travel there...and it is there we must pounce.

Chiyo: "I am to meet you at the entrance to the illithid caverns and ambush some illithid who have a Matron Mother's daughter captive."
Solaufein: "Exactly. The illithid tunnels are in the southeast portion of the main Underdark cavern. I will be scouting and you will find me there when you arrive. We do not expect the illithids for some time, yet, so you have the opportunity to rest and resupply yourself, if that is what you wish to do. You must meet me at the entrance to the illithid tunnels within the next twelve hours, no more. Do not be late."
Imrae: "Indeed. There are many exquisite horrors that may be found for you in the Demonweb Pits, should you fail. And if you decide to run, the driders will eventually track you down. As for you, Solaufein...the Matron Mother expects even better from you. Report to the temple before you leave the city."
Solaufein: "As... as you wish, Handmaiden."
And they both leave.

Now I have a bit of time to prepare before I go ambush some mind flayers. I head east and see some drow training their magical skills, which involve a summoned djinn, a priestess pouring healing spells into it, and others repeatingly casting combat spells on it while the djinn pleads with them to destroy it, because at least then it would be banished back to its home and no longer endue these torments.

Talking to the djinn, it just spits that it knows Chiyo has no intention of letting it go and to leave it alone. With the torturers all standing around and watching like hawks, that's the only conversation option I have, so I leave and go to the tavern. Just inside the tavern door is a drow named Merinid, who tells Chiyo a long tale about the drow's original descent into the Underdark:
Merinid: Greetings to you, o potent female. Stay for a time, if you wish...the group of us here are sharing exploits and tales of the past. Something I doubt you Nasadrans have time for, eh? I have a tale for you, if you're interested. Something my house-mother once told me, in fact. If you're of a mind, that is..."
Chiyo: "Sure, I'd like to hear it."
Merinid: "Excellent! Hah! My tale...my tale begins long ago, when our people first descended into the great depths and dark caverns. During a day when our homes were not carved out of stone and clay. Drow homes were made of twigs and black grasses, grass that many had brought with them into the Underdark. There were few homes, of course, but the largest belonged to the first Matriarch. The Matriarch led the early hordes of drow, helping them to survive in hostile lands. She was powerful, potent and cunning...a great boon to her people, who admired her greatly. To honor her, a group of drow set upon the shark-fiends and stole the stone throne of their King, to secretly present to the Matriarch as a trophy. They stowed it in the grass rafters of her Hall. The Matriarch arrived in her Hall and the drow warriors went to retrieve the throne, but much to their horror its weight caused it to fall through the grass rafters and crush the Matriarch below. It is a sad, sad tale of our early travails in this dark place...and it holds a moral, as well. Can you think of the moral, female?"
Minsc: "Boo knows! Do not stow thrones in grass houses!"
Merinid: "Yes! Yes!! That's it exactly!!"
Tathlyn: "Imbecile! How dare you tell such a moronic lie about the history of our people! Lolth will sentence you to an eternity of poisoned agony for such madness!!"
Merinid: "Bah! The Spider Queen has no sense of humour! Now, Vhaeraun, on the other hand..."
Tathlyn: "You dare?! I shall kill you in the name of the Mother of all Drow, fool!! He is mine... no one interfere!"
And she splatters him all over the tavern floor.

Next I talk to Szordrin, who runs the fighting pits and says that many Ust Nathans are interested in seeing how "Veldrin" fights. So I take his offer, walk in, and murder an umber hulk in moments. Next up is a nabassu, who also dies without doing anything more than casting hold person on Minsc. Then a sahuagin prince, and then a beholder, all of which I kill because the gate to the fighting pit doesn't close so I have everyone but Chiyo pile on to the spot where the enemy appears and alpha strike it down the instant it teleports in. Szordrin is most impressed and hands over a bunch of gold. Chiyo then offers to fight him, and he begs off and immediately runs away to get more monsters that would serve as better opponents for her.

The other drow in the tavern tell tales of the founding of Ust Natha, of their Bloodings or Runnings on the surface where they slaughtered at will, and of the dragon Adalon. An old drow names Nym Khalazza mentions that the Ust Nathans killed Adalon's mate, but that one of the elven gods promised her children long ago in exchange for guarding the path to the surface:
Nym Khalazza: "Hm. I know of only one dragon that inhabits the near caverns of the Underdark, and that is the ancient silver beast, Adalon...she who was sent by our surface cousins to guard the old passages."
Chiyo: "Yes, that one... what can you tell me about her?"
Nym Khalazza: "It is said that the silver dragon once had a mate, long ago...a mate who was captured by our people when we were still dwellers of the southern reaches. The heart of her mate was ripped from its body whole, as I hear. The Queen of the Drow used its heart in a ceremony of great darkness, one that angered an old, pale god of the surface elves...I know not which one. Does it matter? When we were driven beneath the surface, sentenced by our fiendish cousins, their god made a pact with Adalon. In return for her vow to guard the old passages to the surface, he would give her what she desired most. At a time of her choosing, when she had grown old, Adalon could call on the god and he would grant her children...eggs that would be made real by the soul of her lost dragon love. Or so the story goes. I hold little truck with it, myself...but, then, I would never venture into those old passages just in case the tales of her presence are true."
Chiyo: "Is there any news more recent? Perhaps you've heard of her eggs?"
Nym Khalazza: "Well...I have heard the passages to the surface are open once more. At least the Matron Mothers certainly believe so, gathering their armies as they are. Perhaps Adalon is dead, I know not."
An army?  photo smiley-rpg010.gif Hmm...

Upstairs are the "lust chambers," and as soon as I walk upstairs a drow female named Hunrae seizes on Xan and demands that he come with her:
Hunrae: "You, male. Yes, you, in the robes! Come closer. I wish to have a good look at you."
Xan: Swallows. "M-me?"
Hunrae: "Bah, I have no time for this imbecility! Praise Lolth I will not need your brain tonight, or you'd be facing spider pits. Yes, you! You will come before me - now!"
Chiyo: "Hold it. What gives you the authority to command one of my males?"
Hunrae: "You dare address me as an equal, whereas you are barely more than a slave yourself? Amusing. Yes, I know of you, Veldrin of Ched Nasad, which may be more than you deserve. I am Hunrae of the First House, and this male will go with me. Do I make myself clear?"
Chiyo: "He is not 'this male.' He is my male."
Hunrae: "You are nothing to me, and yet you risk raising your eyes over a mere male? What say you, male? You feel honored to be chosen, of course, and the only obstacle is this impudent female next to you. Tell me, male... do you wish her out of the way?"
Xan: "Ah... the House we serve will be most displeased with Veldrin's demise."
Hunrae: "I see. A conflict with the other house is not in my interests now... unless we settle this debt personally. Bah! I am in no mood for this. Enough of this foolishness. You - male! Go with me. I will tolerate no delay."
Things look like they will come to blows until Xan finds a way to extricate himself from his predicament:

Hunrae: "What? What do you mean, 'cannot'?"
Xan: "I, ah..." He sighs. "Veldrin, will you explain my predicament?"
Hunrae: "Have you no tongue yourself, male? Speak!"
Xan: "This is not... possible. Physically."
Hunrae: "Ah. You do not lie, I see. So why not tell me at once? Your female kept intervening as if you were the best lover in Ched Nasad!"
Xan: "Well, she..."
Hunrae: "Bah!"
Hunrae leaves in disgust and Xan speaks to Chiyo:
Xan: He sighs. "Perfect. Just perfect. I suppose I should feel honored now?"
Chiyo: "I am sorry it happened, Xan."
Xan: "As I am, Chiyo. What could have happened...would have been intolerable. But just standing there between you two, unable to raise my eyes from the ground...I suppose now I know what the cattle feels."
Chiyo: "I had to interfere, Xan. I had to defend you!"
Xan: "I am thankful. But I am not used to such treatment, nor do I want to get accustomed to it. Nor do I wish to be claimed as property. My complaints are futile, of course. I probably should have let the incident wash over us, forget it and never bring it up again. Such helplessness... Forgive me. You are the one who should complain here. Stranded in the Underdark, without a soul, disguised and surrounded by drow-"
Chiyo: "-distanced from the one I love."
Xan: "I know. But the circumstances demand it from us. When we are free, then... Speaking of your troubles makes mine lessen, as always. How is it that you always lighten my heart? Must be some ancient magic, from the times well before Bhaal. And perhaps Corellon and Ao..."
Chiyo: "Eternal magic."
Xan: He sighs. "Indeed. I have to ask you: if at all possible, do not lead us here again. I do not think my luck will hold. And...thank you."
There's nothing else of consequence upstairs, so I make a brief stop in the tavern for a room--the only rooms available are royal ones--and Xan and Chiyo talk during the night:
Xan: "Do not look at me like this. I cannot."
Chiyo: "Neither can I. When will be become ourselves again?"
Xan: "Never, I suppose. Or if we will, I'll have only a few days to look at you before you die your final death, deprived of everything you are. I am sorry. Good night, Chiyo."
In the morning, I leave Ust Natha and go to the southeastern part of the caverns to find the Solaufein and the illithids. On the way, I run into another adventuring party of a couple wizards and their hired muscle who attack immediately because as far as they know, they're fighting dark elves. The first attempt Xan gets shredded by a prismatic spray and I reload.

The second attempt Aerie is backstabbed through the floor by a thief and I reload, but the third attempt, I send Aerie down and have her dump acid fog and cloudkill spells on top of the enemy to soften them up and that works. They drop a few potions and a scroll of Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting, which I give to Xan and then proceed to the rendezvous point with Solaufein, who greets the party in the traditions of his people.

Solaufein: "But your timing could not be better. I sense that the illithids will come within range, soon, and I may safely pull them out of the astral plane.
Xan: "Safely? Do you even know what are you talking about? Meddling in psionics and plane traveling is never safe!"
Solaufein: "You would do well to follow your leader in silence, male. As I said, you are still no better than a slave. Have you a question before the battle, Veldrin? Make it quick."
Chiyo: "Is there anything I should know about fighting the illithids?"
Solaufein: "Not much. Strike quickly before their mind powers can leave you helpless for them to devour your brain at their leisure. Protect yourself, if you can. But enough talk. I sense the illithids' approach. Wait and I shall bring them out of the astral plane when they come close."
I summon up some ghasts and a Mordenkainen's Sword, both of which are immune to having their brains eaten, and wait. The first attempt goes great until the very end, when the last umber hulk kills the Matron Mother's daughter just before it dies. The second attempt goes much better as Chiyo and the summons concentrate on the mind flayers--Jaheira and Minsc spend the entire battle in a stupor due to the mind flayer's psychic assault--and Aerie, Xan, and Imoen pour magical attacks into the umber hulks. When everyone is dead, Phaere sniffs that she wasn't sure she was ever going to be rescued and that Solaufein did well enough, though she notes it must gall him to have rescued her:
Phaere: "It is about time that my captors were finally defeated. Hmph. I was beginning to think that they would reach their illithid city, after all."
Solaufein: "Greetings, Phaere, daughter of Ardulace. I trust you are uninjured?"
Phaere: "Who is that? Solaufein? So... Matron Mother sent you, did she? How that must gall you, risking your life to save mine."
Solaufein: "I did as I was commanded."
Phaere: "Yes, you did...as any male should. You have done well enough, I suppose, you and your...assistance. Hmmmn...who is this female with you?"
Solaufein: "That one? That is --"
Phaere: "I am sure she can speak for herself, male. Am I correct? You have a tongue, yes? Who might you be?"
Chiyo: "I am Veldrin of Ched Nasad."
Phaere: "Indeed? A foreigner? How very odd. We shall have to speak more, you and I, once we are back in Ust Natha. I shall head back to the city on my own and inform the Matron Mother of your...successful service, Solaufein. You have proven useful. You should be grateful."
Solaufein: "You are going to return on your own? No! What if you encounter danger once again?! I shall not be responsible for --"
Phaere: "I appreciate your touching 'concern', but I can handle myself, Solaufein. And it is my command, so you have no choice. Farewell."
Solaufein is not happy about this.
Solaufein: "Blasted, arrogant wench! May the Spider Queen bite at her black heart! I shall follow her, to ensure her over-confidence does not endanger us all. Return to the city on your own, Veldrin. I shall meet you at the city's entrance."
He then heads off to follow Phaere so she doesn't get herself killed and says he'll meet us at the city. On the way back, Chiyo talks to Xan:
Chiyo: "I miss then sun. I want out, I want to be myself again!"
Xan: "It shall not come to be. We will all die here."
Xan.  photo cripes.001.gif

After a trip to the merchants to sell some of the loot I've picked up, I talk to Solaufein, and Imrae orders Chiyo and Solaufein to report to the tavern to speak with her:
Solaufein: "You have returned, finally. Good. Bad enough that I had to worry over Phaere's safe return, I was not about to start concerning myself over yours."
Imrae: "Yes. The daughter of the Matron Mother is safely returned. You have done an excellent service. I am told the Matron Mother is pleased. Phaere has also sent a command to you which must not be ignored. You are to meet her in the tavern here in the city. She wishes to speak with you, although I cannot wonder why. She asks for you, too, Solaufein. You are all to rest and relax in the tavern as a... reward...for your service."
Solaufein: "But, Handmaiden, I have no wish to --"
Imrae: "Do you wish to earn punishment a second time, male? You shall do as she says. She shall see all of you at the tavern within a day's time, no more. That is all."
With nothing else to do for the moment, I head over to the tavern, where Phaere is waiting. She thanks Veldrin for rescuing her and snaps at Solaufein when he points out that he was there too, and says that House Despana could use someone like her:
Phaere: "Ah! So Veldrin arrives at last to greet the female that she rescued so valiantly from the clutches of the filthy devourers!"
Solaufein: "Ah. I must have been invisible and uninvolved during that encounter, I see."
Phaere: "I was speaking to Veldrin, Solaufein. When I speak to you, it shall be to command you to lick my boot. Keep your bitterness silent or lose your tongue. Now, ignore your emasculated commander's outburst, Veldrin, and consider this a time for reward and enjoyment. Mother Ardulace was pleased by your performance. Solaufein's abilities are known to her, but she was delighted to learn you are such a powerful fighter. Ust Natha could use such as you, Veldrin. Amongst the drow, only the strong survive... You could have slaves at your beck and call, rewards at your fingertips...the favor of Lolth. How does this sound?"
Chiyo: "What's the catch?"
Phaere: "The catch is that you have to earn that favor, Veldrin. Favor and comforts are not given out lightly... they must be purchased with blood and sacrifice."
Solaufein: "Why don't you go ahead and carve out her heart now, Phaere? You will get to that part eventually, won't you?"
Phaere: "Silence! Not all drow forget that sometimes a reward is worth spending a part of yourself...or everything. It is a lesson you would do well to re-learn. Seeing as you are so capable, Veldrin, you and Solaufein have been given another task to complete for the greater glory of Lolth. You will meet me on the city platform, away from curious ears. But not right away...rest and amuse yourselves for a time. I shall be here awhile. After I leave take no longer than a few days before you meet with me on the platform. This is as the Matron Mother commands, and so shall it be."
We are dismissed and Phaere leaves, but since I've already done everything here at the tavern, I head straight to go talk to Phaere again.

The Fish and the Brain
On the way there, I find a duergar slave who addresses Chiyo and asks that she speak to his master, who is currently in the large tank behind him. Chiyo berates him for daring to address her and he apologizes, but states that if Chiyo does not speak to his master, he will broadcast an alarm to the city. With an inducement like that, how can I refuse? Chiyo steps up to the tank and is mentally greeted by an aboleth.

Aboleths look at a little silly, but I really like them as monsters. They have psychic powers, they can transform people into their servitors, and their racial memory means that it's easy to give them ancient knowledge long lost to the rest of the world and have them speak about it as though they were there. This one tells Chiyo that it knows she's from the surface and unless she does what it asks, every drow in the city will know as well:
Chiyo: "What kind of creature are you that can step through my thoughts so easily?"
Aboleth: "I am superior. That is all you need know, SURFACER! Yes, I see what you are. It is printed across your transparent mind. You will do the task I set before you, or your identity will appear in the mind of every Drow within this city. Are my thoughts clear? Good. I ask of you... I command a deed of violence. I call for a death, that I might learn more of this place. It is simple, brutal, and more suited to you than my petty servant here. Qilue...a priestess...I would learn of her faith and the power it grants. Her mind is the prize, and I would have you bring it!"
Chiyo: "There is no way for me to drag a Drow Priestess to you. Everyone will see!"
Aboleth: "I do not require her as a whole. As I said, it is her mind that I require. Kill her. Slay her in her home and temple. Retrieve her brain, and bring it to me. That is the task. That is the command I give. You will obey, or I reveal you, and you die. That is your choice."
Without much choice, Chiyo agrees.

Though really, the vast majority of the time, killing drow is a net good for the world, so I don't really mind this quest.

Phaere did give me a few days, so I turn around and to go Qilue's house instead, passing a pair of mind flayer ambassadors being instructed on proper behavior while in the city and only hearing half the conversation because the illithids are speaking telepathically  photo Emoticon.gif, and busting through the front door. Qilue is not particularly happy to have intruders in her house and attacks immediately. This battle is difficult because of the tight quarters and because Qilue immediately casts blade barrier and runs into the middle of the party, making it hard for anyone to cast anything. I eventually win because I adopt the same mentality. As soon as I enter, I unload on her closest guardian, who freezes with Xan hits him with a wand of frost, can't cast anything, and dies. Qilue gets hit with a ruby ray of reversal from Xan and a breach from Aerie, which destroys all her defenses, and then Minsc, Chiyo, and Jaheira chop her to bits. After that it's mopping up the other servants. That takes a while, and I end up ducking out of the house and saving at one point as I repeatedly try to kill the last servant before he and his summoned death knight can kill one of my wizards, and in the end, it only happens because the death knight goes out of the control and kills the servant itself.

It's a pretty nice house.

I take the Boneblade off Qilue's body, loot some other miscellaneous gear, and go back to the aboleth:
Aboleth: "Hear my will... You return. Let me see your thoughts... Let me see what you have accomplished... Thoughts enter my mind... I see their ways more clearly... I see the faith... yes... this will be most useful..."
Chiyo: "I assume we are through? I wish to leave your presence with all haste, creature."
Aboleth: "Go, you are freed and dismissed. Your secret is your reward. I leave you to your petty concerns. Speak not of me... or you will be exposed to all..."
There's no way to attack the tank, so that's all I can do for now.

I actually thought this quest would be totally different and involve a different Qilue, but maybe it's a common drow name.

This time, when I talk to Solaufein first, he says that Phaere hasn't told him anything and to talk to her. When Chiyo does so, Phaere says that there's a beholder in the city smuggling out adamantine and the Matron Mothers want the expendable newcomers to help kill it:
Phaere: "Ah, you have finally come. Good. Your timing is excellent, as I had just arrived here recently, myself. I trust you are ready to leave presently."
Solaufein: "What, exactly, are we to be ready for, Phaere? Why have you brought us out here? Is this some fool ambition of yours?"
Phaere: "None of my ambitions are foolish, Solaufein. And we are here to perform a service for the good of the city and the Matron Mother."
Solaufein: "I wasn't aware Mother Ardulace did anything 'for the good of the city'."
Phaere: "Silence! You will obey, male! An eye tyrant... a beholder... is in the city, smuggling adamantine. The Matrons have decided we are to kill it."
Solaufein: "What is this?! Did you say 'we'?"
Phaere: "I did. I am to join you in this duty. The eye tyrant has come on his Spelljammer ship, near here. Solaufein and I will go and scout it out, alone. Veldrin...I trust you can find your own way to the ship. It is off one of the platforms in the southeast of Ust Natha. Do not take too long to catch up. Come, Solaufein. We can catch up on 'old times'."
A spelljammer? This beholder is an interstellar smuggler? And how did it get its ship into the Underdark, anyway? Phaere doesn't explain--after this conversation, she and Solaufein immediately teleport away.

When I arrive, Phaere says that the beholder will arrive soon, and Solaufein cautions the party

Phaere: "Veldrin! Finally! We have been watching the crew leave the ship for their rest, and I suspect the eye tyrant is soon to follow! We must be ready!"
Solaufein: "Concentrate all of your effort upon the eye tyrant, Veldrin. And do not bring harm to Phaere or myself... such 'accidents' happen far too often for my liking."
Phaere: "Hmph. Indeed... although I can -- wait! Wait, be still! It comes, I sense it! Be ready!!"
Then the beholder shoes up and I Gate of Babylon it into the ground. When it dies, Phaere tells Chiyo not to disturb the body:
Solaufein: "A most brilliant victory! The Spider Queen smiles on us today! We have spat in the great eye of the eye tyrants and live to tell the tale!"
Phaere: "Indeed. Well done. Do not disturb the carcass, however. There will be several acolytes coming to deal with it."
Solaufein: "Deal with it? What do you speak of, Phaere? Why would acolytes wish to do anything with the corpse of an eye tyrant?"
Phaere: "Ask me no questions, Solaufein. We shall return to report to the Matron Mothers. Veldrin... I will see you again in the tavern in three days. "
Solaufein: "What is going on, here, Phaere? This is too suspicious."
Phaere: "Do as you are commanded, male, and live. Veldrin, journey about the city at your will... but remember our meeting. Do not be late!"
Then she walks away.  photo emot-iceburn.gif

I don't have anything else to do, so I head to the tavern immediately. After a night in the rooms, I talk to Phaere.

After Solaufein asks to leave and Phaere tells him to be silent, she gives the party their next task--the nearby svirfneblin have been uppity and must be punished:
Phaere: "The Matron Mothers have decided the deep gnomes, the svirfneblin, have not shown enough fear of the drow as of late. So it is time to teach them a lesson. Mother Ardulace has volunteered you for this particular service."
Solaufein: "You... you want me to kill svirfneblin?! Gnomes?! Such a minor task, and I am to waste my time on it?! I have better things to do, woman!!"
Phaere: "You have better things to do than to serve the Queen of the Demonweb Pits? Mother Lolth, herself?"
Solaufein: "Bah! As if the Spider Queen would care what we do with the deep gnomes! Send Veldrin, if you're so interested! I'm sure she can do it without me, I assure you!"
Phaere: "No. You will go with Veldrin. Argue again and it shall be your tongue, Solaufein. Approach the svirfneblin village in the great caverns and await a patrol. Slaughter them...and bring back proof of the deed. Return here in a few days."
At this, Aerie can take no more.
Aerie: "But...the svirfneblin aren't evil! They're...they're just harmless gnomes! Why must we do this?!"
Phaere: "An odd sentiment, for a drow. What would you propose? Mercy? How would that look to our enemies. You shall do as I say without a further word."
Solaufein: "If this is what our Matron Mother decrees, then I have little choice. I will go, now. Veldrin, catch up quickly...I expect you there without delay."
And both of them leave. And so do I, out of Ust Natha, stopping to buy the staff of earth from one of the merchants, and into the wilds of the Underdark.

Solaufein is there outside the svirfneblin city, and he's not particularly happy about the task, so Chiyo offers to do it and let him go back to the city:
Solaufein: "Finally, there you are. We shall wait here for the patrol to come to us. One will come soon, I expect, and then we can get this over with."
Chiyo: "I can handle this myself, Solaufein, if you would prefer to return to the city."

Chiyo tells Solaufein to leave, and after he does I wait for a deep gnome patrol to show up. When it does, Chiyo spills the beans about Phaere's plot and the reason for it, and asks the patrol leader to give her his helmet as proof of his death. He does so gladly and runs back to his city to speak to the leaders about being more obsequious to the drow in the future, and I go back to Ust Natha to find Phaere. Things do not go well:
Phaere: "Ahhh...you return, and with a svirfneblin helmet, no less. Good. I am sure the gnomes are scrambling as we speak to provide a tribute to the Matron Mothers."
Solaufein: "Yes, I am sure the gnomes were suitably impressed by our display of might. No doubt they had no inkling we were capable of such a feat."
Phaere: "What is this? Are you losing your stomach for blood, Solaufein? The Spider Queen would be displeased to hear such, I would think."
Solaufein: "I save my wrath for the true enemies of the drow. Lolth knows this, as does the Matron Mother of my own House."
Phaere: "It is not for you to decide, male! I shall have your bloody heart ripped from your chest on the altar if you continue to speak!"
Solaufein: "I call your bluff, arrogant one! Act and you risk war between your House and mine. How would Mother Ardulace see that, I wonder?"
Phaere: "It would almost be worth it to silence your impudent tongue! If a Handmaiden were to hear you speak to me in such fashion, she would flay you open without a second thought!"
Solaufein: "You should be so lucky, Despana bitch."
Phaere: "Bah! I will listen to no more! Veldrin! Meet me within my private quarters in the Female Fighter Society tower. Within one hour, Veldrin...do not be late."
Chiyo: "Very well, I will be there."
Phaere: "Good. You, Solaufein, will wait until the Matron Mothers find another task to set you to. May it lead you to a gruesome death, worm."
And both of them storm out. I have the feeling that this will not end well for one or both of them.

Within the hour doesn't give me much time. Next stop, the Female Fighter Society.

Game time elapsed: 102 Days, 21 Hours.

And that is the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is dark elf society!

The big problem I have with the dark elves is that the lore gives them black skin as a sign of how they're evil. No wait, that's the first problem. The second big problem is that the strongest, most obvious matriarchy in D&D is run by psychotically evil dominatrices. No, hmm...  photo emot-byodood.gif

The big problem with drow society other than all the other big problems with drow society is that it makes no sense whatsoever and only survives because of constant, massive divine intervention by Lolth. Any society where they were betraying and murdering each other that often would have dissolved into internecine warfare in a hurry, and the book Drow of the Underdark actually agrees with this and says that the only reason it doesn't is because the priestesses don't allow it. But that makes it really hard to look at it with any kind of viewpoint other than as a dungeon filled with monsters. I mean, the drow are monsters, but at least orcs have a recognizable society that actually works without a goddess constantly sticking her fingers in the holes in the dike.

There's not much else to say about the content here. I was surprised to see all the non-slave, non-drow in Ust Natha, but I suppose the drow don't betray everyone so often that no one will come near them for fear of more betrayal. Or maybe it's just that they know they're going to be betrayed and factor that into their business plans. That's certainly what I've been doing when I accept the quests with buffs already cast.

Next: Part XXVII: Come to me, dark warriors, battle awaits us!
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