Drizzt Do'Urden felt thousands of eyes upon him as he walked the lonely path between the Forest of Myr and The Spider Swamp.
Few, if any, locals ever used this path, outside of perhaps paladins or others seeking to destroy the perceived menace of the spider-kin creatures who lived here. He had caught occasional glances of misshapen forms in the thick, web-shrouded foliage, and Guenhwyvar was clearly on alert, though she did not seem especially troubled. He did not sense evil, but a animal, acting on instinct to kill was not a creature of evil, just a part of the natural order.
The humans in Calimshan had made it quite clear, painfully so, that a Drow was not welcome in their lands. Especially not now. He had not gone into Almraiven proper, but the outer villages offered little hospitality. He had, however, heard tales of great armies of spiders coming from the swamp to ravage the countryside; Ettercaps, Chitines, Werespiders, 'ordinary' spiders of all shapes and sizes, even bebilith.
All working together.
The people claimed that Zanassu had returned.
Zanassu, The Spider Demon, was worshiped by spider-kin who desired to avoid Lolth. Unfortunately for them, Zanassu was also dead, slain by Selvetarm, Champion of Lolth and her unwilling slave. So their worship actually benefited Lolth.
He had heard that Selvetarm, still holding Zanassu's spheres of influence, had been freed from Lolth, but he still wondered about the berserker god. Selvetarm had been a harsh, brutal, mad deity who represented the frenzy of blood-lust and battle fever. He had encountered followers of The Spider Who Waits before, and these encounters had almost invariably been violent.
He had come to investigate. If the stories of attacks were true, these people needed his help, despite their maltreatment of him.
Drizzt watched as a grizzled Chitine emerged from the concealing brush a short distance ahead of him. He was older, his black hair was graying a bit, but the young Drow recognized him at once.
"Uru? Uru Drowbiter?"
The Chitine smiled widely, displaying white teeth beneath thick black mandibles, "You remember me?"
"Of course, how could I not?"
Drizzt had met this particular Chitine some years before. Uru had attacked him, the typical reaction of a Chitine to a Drow, and vice-verse. After he'd been subdued and recognized Drizzt as a fellow enemy of Lolth the two had bonded, somewhat.
"It's been a long time." Multi-faceted eyes regarded the young Drow, "It appears you have aged better than I. I welcome you. What brings you to Selvetarm's swamp?"
Drizzt smiled back, the Chitine was far more hospitable than the villagers, though one could never rule out a trap, "Thank you. I had heard stories of spiders terrorizing the land, and of Zanassu's return. I came here to investigate."
Uru chuckled, "Terrorizing the land? That's what they told you?" He sighed, "Oh, well, I suppose it's to be expected. The people of this land are generally arachnophobic. A single spider could empty a village." He cocked his head, "They've sent paladins and warriors here to slaughter us before. But spiders reproduce quickly, and with training from the Selvetargtlin and powerful allies, we've been able to hold our own against them. No doubt you suffered here. Being a Drow is unpopular in these parts, since they began coming up to Ajhuutal."
"Drow? Are you working with the Drow now?"
"I met and helped free a Drow slave named Rizzen. He's a little younger than yourself. An exceptional young man, charismatic, utterly loyal to his friends, kind to a fault. We journeyed together for a time, me, his best friend, an incredibly loyal troll named Gristle, and my Illithid friend, Ilix'Ith, a priest of Maanzecorian. Rizzen and Gristle left to convert the trolls to the worship of Ghaunadaur and I followed Selvetarm's call to come here and help these people. Ilix'Ith returned to his people when his god was resurrected. We still keep in touch, and Rizzen's a full-fledged priest now."
The name Rizzen was common enough. In fact, the patron of House Do'Urden and father of three of his siblings had been named Rizzen. Ghaunadaur was also known to him. A dark god of slime and ooze and madness. Not a god Drizzt would choose to follow, but it was none of his business.
"You came here to protect the spider-kin?"
The small creature nodded, "Selvetarm called me here to aid his worshipers against their oppressors and help rebuild his temple." He smiled, "No doubt you came here to protect the villagers from rampaging spiders, correct?"
Drizzt looked out over the swamps, here he saw an Ettercap, a large, grotesque creature, resembling a bloated purple human with a spider's jaws, there, a large spider sat preening its legs. He was utterly surrounded by spiders and spider-kin, but they stuck to the shadows and underbrush, "Yes, but I have an open mind. I know how people exaggerate when they're afraid." Indeed, he new it well, he was often judged for the deeds of his evil kin, "I also came to find out if Zanassu had truly returned."
"After a fashion, I suppose." Uru shrugged, "Selvetarm is Zanassu now. The original Zanassu is long dead." Uru paused for a moment, "I am a poor host. Would you like to see Ajhuutal? These," He waved his upper right arm, indicating the spiders and spider creatures around them, "Are my friends, I will see you safely through."
The journey to Ajhuutal was through dense wood and thick brush, and the strange creatures he had seen kept their distance, apparently fearful of Guenhwyvar. Drizzt had to be warned several times of hidden webs and traps along the way.
"We have to take precautions," Uru said, "The 'good' people of Calimshan fought a terrible war, centuries ago, and to win they needed an edge. So they created a race of spiders who could assume human or elven form. The Aranea. When the war, ended, however, so did the Aranea's usefulness. They began to be persecuted. Eventually they were forced to flee or risk extermination, so they hid here. Zanassu was their protector, and when he died they were left nearly defenseless." He paused, "They are a peaceful people, and avoid conflict whenever possible, but people just won't let them be. When Selvetarm was brought to his senses he sent many of his followers here, to aid and protect the Aranea. As he had killed Zanassu, he felt it was his duty to protect his people."
Once again, as a Drow, Drizzt could relate to the Aranea's plight. He could also appreciate Uru's position, the Chitine had been created by the Drow as a slave race and had won their freedom only through long struggle, though most were still enslaved by The Spider Queen.
"When we first met in the Underdark you said that a spider never leaves his web. What happened to change your mind?"
Uru laughed, "A nesting pair of deep dragons."
Drizzt smiled, "Yes, that would make things a bit uncomfortable."
A vast, web-shrouded city stretched before them. Ancient, obviously rebuilding after centuries of neglect. In the center of the city was a magnificent white dome which was carved in the image of a great spider, representing, presumably, Selvetarm, though its builders had undoubtedly meant to honor Zanassu. Intricately carved webbing connected the main body with four towers, one at each compass point. The temple was in pristine condition, it had doubtless been the first building repaired by the faithful.
"Welcome to Ajhuutal, Drizzt Do'Urden." Uru pointed towards the great temple, "This is The Apostolaeum of The Spider Who Waits."
It seemed that every form of spider or spider-kin Drizzt knew of, and some he didn't, walked, climbed or skittered through the city, mingling with Drow, dark elves, Chitine, humans and even a moon elf. It amazed Drizzt to see Drow and Chitine, mortal enemies with centuries of mutual genocide, peacefully and openly interacting. As they walked the streets, Uru paused briefly to buy some food from a vendor. The marketplace was as busy as any Drizzt had seen and most of the food was sold live. The path took them by the Apostolaeum of The Spider Who Waits.
The Guardian of The Apostolaeum entrance they passed was a large Drider, his slender, beautiful Drow upper body set atop a great brown spider. Unlike the Driders Drizzt had encountered in the past, including his unfortunate half-brother Dinin Do'Urden, this one seemed in full possession of his mental faculties. A sword was strapped to his back. He looked at the newcomer with astonishment, clearly recognizing Drizzt.
Uru stepped beside the Drider, his already diminutive form dwarfed by the huge creature, "This is Adin, Guardian of The East Gate. Adin, this is Drizzt Do'Urden."
"I saw you fight at Mithral Hall. You were incredible."
"Thank you. But I wish that the battle had never happened. All I want in life is peace, and that is something I will always be denied."
He thought for a moment. His life was hard, but could he compare his miseries to the horror and agony of becoming a Drider. Adin meant 'monster', and Drizzt doubted that was the name he had been given at birth.
"Did we cross swords?" Drizzt asked.
"No, though I would have been honored to have done so." He smiled, a dark humor in his voice, "Dead, but honored."
The sight of a being stricken by Lolth's foul magic brought a question to Drizzt's mind. "How do you protect yourselves from Lolth's retribution?"
"We have the aid of several sympathetic deities, as well as Selvetarm." Uru replied, "She tries, though, placing spies among us, trying to undermine our work. We have to be ever vigilant." He shrugged, "That's just the way life is."
Uru lead him into the Apostolaeum, and to a darkened corner of the temple, where a longsword sat upon a small, stone table. The blade seemed to radiate a palpable sense of evil.
"This is Thalck'velve." Uru said solemnly, "With this sword Selvetarm murdered Zanassu, and was utterly corrupted by evil. It is kept here as a reminder that those who seek out evil and violence will suffer from it, just as he suffered. Unprovoked aggression leads to corruption and slavery to darkness."
To hear such words from a Selvetargtlin, a berserker warrior, was proof positive that the worship of The Spider Who Waits had changed dramatically.
The higher buildings were linked by rope bridges and some buildings were completely wrapped within thick webbing. It was to one of the latter that Uru led Drizzt, his home. It was a small building. Walls, both inner and outer, were covered in webbing, as was the roof/ceiling, but none of it was adhesive to the touch, though traversing it was still an odd experience, to say the least. A small, simple table and two chairs were free of webbing, doubtless for entertaining non-arachnid guests. The Chitine beckoned him to sit, set the food on the table, and reached into an alcove to pull out a small bottle, "Do you like dwarven whiskey?"
"There is some truth to what the outsiders say. When Ettercaps reproduce they have about eighty ravenous young apiece, who immediately search for fresh meat. We cannot prevent it, and the swarms would eat both each other and any of us who happened to be in their path, including their own parents. Of late we've had clerics on hand to Charm them, but in the first few years. . . Yes, they plagued the area terribly. We still haven't truly found a way to deal with the problem, outside of mass culling, which is something I am unprepared to sanction. Perhaps Selvetarm will gift us with an answer." He sighed deeply, "The unintelligent spiders are a similar problem. They cannot differentiate between intelligent and non-intelligent prey. The other times we have acted in self defense. We have been attacked mercilessly by paladins, aberration hunters, adventurers and anyone else who fears or hates spiders, Drow or 'monsters'. And we have had to hold off attempts to encroach on our swamp for farmland or new towns. We try to deal with such problems peaceably, but it rarely works. Few of us with any intelligence would go out of their way to attack someone without just cause, but, still, it is wise not to enter Spider Swamp without being accompanied by one of the faithful. One prey animal is the same as another to some."
The whiskey was excellent and the food was good, if a little dry.
"Food must be a problem, then. The amount, and nature, of the diet of most of the people here would likely drain the resources of the swamp."
Uru sighed, "Yes, it is a problem. However, one of the deities allied with Selvetarm is Malar, and he drives game into the swamp to supplement our supply of livestock. Even then, its a stretch. Those who don't need meat to survive don't eat it unless it is a rare occasion or festival."
"You are allied with Malar?" Drizzt was shocked. Malar, The Beastlord, was an evil god of hunting, predators and lycanthropes. He was also a powerful enemy of the, (Non-Drow), elven races and rumored to be allied with Lolth herself.
"We take any help we can get. Malar is a god of predation and Werebeasts, including Werespiders. Whether his personal motivations are good or evil, our mutual goals are essentially the same; to put prey in the web."
"But is he not an ally of Lolth?"
Uru smiled, "I was under the impression Lolth had few allies left."
Drizzt had to concede that was true, the Underdark was in chaos. Eilistraee's sacrifice had changed hundreds, if not thousands, of Drow back into dark elves, weakening Lolth's power base, and she, (Eilistraee), Ilmater and Selvetarm had drawn away the more gentle Drow and Chitine, as well as most of the fearsome Selvetargtlin. Ghaunadaur and Vhaeraun and were making great strides with disgruntled Drow males, while Kiaransalee and Zinzerena were making inroads within even the strongest bastions of The Spider Queen's faith. Keptolo remained 'loyal' only because he knew he lacked the strength to directly oppose his mistress. Non-Drow deities, both good and ill, such as Ilsensine, Merrshaulk and Bane, were watching and waiting for their chance, making moves, subtle or brazen, to expand their own territories. Entire cities were breaking away, and Lolth did not have the forces to stop them. She had sent plagues, fiery zealots, even Yochlol, but nothing could stop the rebellion now. She was growing weaker by the day, and by her own creed the weak were fit only as food for the strong. The Spider Queen's web was falling apart. The entire balance of power was shifting. Gods only knew where it would lead.
"I heard that Matron Quenthel Baenrae was killed by an intellect devourer. An explosive revelation, no doubt." The Chitine couldn't suppress a chuckle at the thought of the shock and chaos caused when the Matron Mother of all of Menzoberranzan's head exploded, releasing a parasitic quadrupedal brain shaped horror. The humble creature had accomplished one of Uru's greatest dreams, and he wished it well. "I hope it got away."
Drizzt didn't find the circumstances of Matron's Baenrae's death amusing, despite the terrible nature of the victim. Life was too important to him. "I've heard that it escaped in the chaos. . ."
Uru detected the note of pain in his voice, "I know it's wrong, taking pleasure in such a thing. But I've always dreamed of taking down a Matron Mother. To slay the ruler of Menzoberranzan herself. . ." He shrugged, "Regardless, an intellect devourer has to feed, just like any other living creature. As a predator myself I have no right to judge."
"I just hope Sos'Umptu doesn't replace her."
Though he'd never admit it, Uru respected the priestess's devotion and love toward her deity, as unworthy as she was. Most Drow worshiped Lolth out of fear, Sos'Umptu truly loved and venerated her goddess. He himself had served Selvetarm in a similar manner for most of his life. . . Sos'Umptu Baenrae was a dangerous woman, but not one who sought prominence. She was happy to tend her chapel and serve her blood-soaked goddess. If Sos'Umptu was chosen by Lolth to lead/force her children back into her web, however, she would pursue her divine commission with unparalleled zeal and bloodshed on a scale not seen since The Time of Troubles.
The two spoke of the decades that had passed, of adventures they had undertaken, of wonders they had seen. Encounters with gods and demons, the pain of love and loss as well as the joys that life offered.
Drizzt Do'Urden looked back over the vast, web-shrouded expanse of Spider Swamp. The eyes still followed him, and, though he did not fear them, he respected them. Uru had insisted upon seeing him on his way, apparently not all of the inhabitants of Spider Swamp were content with animal flesh.
"The nearest port is in Volothamp." Uru pointed a clawed finger at a small map of Calimshan he had given the Drow, "You can get a ship to take you to Skullport or Waterdeep there. Unless you want to visit one of the Drow settlements."
"I think I'll travel a bit more, perhaps through the Forest of Myr, and try to make contact with the other Drow in this part of Faerun. Thank you for the map, by the way."
"Here," The Chitine pointed at an area to the east of Spider Swamp marked 'Plain of Stone Spiders', "Is where The Spider Who Waits lurks. The other Spider Who Waits. You wouldn't like his company, though he'd certainly like you."
"Well, I wish you luck, my friend." Uru said, shaking Drizzt's hand.
"And I, you."
Uru Drowbiter watched as the elegant young Drow and his sturdy animal companion vanished into the distance. He would probably never see him again. He wasn't a young Chitine anymore and Drizzt wandered the world even as he remained within his own small swamp, with occasional forays to visit Rizzen and Gristle or to take a necessary trip to the Underdark. From what he'd seen of the world and the attitudes of its people, he didn't particularly envy him.
He preferred to remain within the comfort of his web, where he belonged.
This encounter takes place between the chapters 3 and 4 of my short story The Broken Web.
Selvetarm was redeemed in my stories The Legend of Uru Drowbiter and Selvetarm. This is several decades after those stories, and Uru is in his early fifties.
Adin - Beast, monster. He took the name after becoming a Drider. Why is he still a Drider after being freed from Lolth? Some chose to remain Driders to prove their enmity and disfavor with Lolth.
Kidoumaru, the six-armed, spider-kin ninja from Naruto was called 'Kidoumaru of The East Gate'. It's complicated, and has to do with a Jutsu called Barrier Gate Five Seals Technique. I've written several very long and convoluted stories about Kidoumaru.
Uru respecting a priestess of Lolth? He respects her devotion, she's probably the only person in the multiverse who willingly and of her own free will selflessly loves and obeys Lolth. Crazy as it is, her unshakable faith deserves respect in his eyes. The Choldrith, the bloated priestesses of the Chitine race, love Lolth because they are her warped creations, and where else would they go?
Is it called The Battle of Mithral Hall or The Battle of Keeper's Dale? Or are they separate battles altogether? Adin is referring to the battle where Matron Yvonnel Baenrae was killed. I assume he was not a Drider at the time.
Bebilith are spider demons.
The Spider Who Waits is both the title of Selvetarm and the name or title of a demon spider imprisoned in the Plain of Stone Spiders in Calimshan.
Keptolo is the little-known Drow god of intoxication, males and sexual prowess. He is also known as 'The Willing Consort' and is Lolth's mate, but only for the power it affords him. He would betray her in a heartbeat if he thought he could get away with it.
Zinzerena is a Drow goddess of stealth, assassins and illusion. She's also an enemy of Keptolo, having stolen part of his power to achieve goddess-hood.
Merrshaulk, or Sseth, is the Yuan-ti god of murder, poison and traps. He is currently being impersonated by another evil snake god, Set.
Bane is an evil human god of fear, hate and tyranny.
Ilsensine is, of course, the patron god of the Illithid race. Should he gain control of Lolth's territory, the Underdark would be in serious trouble.
Yochlol, or Handmaidens of Lolth, are gruesome blobs of stinking demonic flesh that The Spider Queen enslaved, transformed, and brainwashed into becoming her loyal slaves.
Obviously, the events of The War of The Spider Queen played out differently here. Selvetarm, Vhaeraun and Kiaransalee survived. Ghaunadaur took back The Pit of Ghaunadaur, his holy site, and destroyed The Promenade, which Eilistraee and her followers had built over it. Eilistraee is gone, and many Drow have become dark elves again. Ilmater has stepped in to take Eilistraee's place among the peaceful Drow.
Race - Chitine
Sex - Male
Alignment - Chaotic Neutral
Class - Fighter/Ranger
Height - 3'6"
Weight - 53 lbs
Patron Deity - Selvetarm
Uru Drowbiter is a legend among Chitines, having slain many Drow, including priestesses of Lolth. He doesn't hate all Drow, and has several close Drow friends, such as Rizzen. He's 'retired' now, and spends his days ensuring that the inhabitants of Spider Swamp and Ajhuutal are safe. He is a respected and high-ranking member of The Selvetargtlin.
Class - Exarch of Silvanus
Alignment - Chaotic Evil
A brutal deity of beasts, blood-lust, carnivores, lycanthropes, hunting and monsters. Malar is a god of predators who lives for the hunt, and the kill. He may or may not still be allied with Lolth. In this story, he is not. He is an enemy of the Seldarine, (the Elven pantheon, of which Selvetarm is now a member), but he helps the spider-kin because they are fellow predators.
Survival of the fittest and winnowing of the weak are Malar's legacy. A brutal, bloody death or kill has great meaning. The crux of life is the challenge between the hunter and prey, the determination of who lives and who dies. View every important task as a hunt. Remain ever alert and alive. Walk the wilderness without trepidation, and show no fear to the hunt. Savagery and strong emotions defeat reason and careful thought in all things. Taste the blood of those you slay, and never kill from a distance. Work against those who cut back the forest and who kill beasts solely because they are dangerous. Slay not the young, the pregnant, or deepspawn so that prey will remain plentiful.
Creed of Malar
Deepspawn are monsters that birth other types of monsters almost constantly, creating a constant stream of creatures to hunt.
Kidoumaru and Naruto are copyright Masashi Kishimoto and Shonen Jump.
Drizzt Do'Urden and Guenhwyvar belong to R.A. Salvatore
Most characters and concepts copyright TSR and Wizards of The Coast.