FINAL CHARACTER REVEAL: Matron Maelora
MATRON MAELORA OF HOUSE GULLION
Matron Maelora of House Gullion
Matron Maelora, matriarch of her house, dominates all who stand with her and commands respect from those who oppose her. She is a skillful negotiator, religious visionary, and mother of nine obedient children. Those children, while adults, are not nearly as old and wise as the matron.
As current ruler of Holoth, Maelora is the personification of drow nobility - a psychotic, pathological genius who undertakes whatever horrific activity is required, by any necessary means, to achieve her ultimate goal: the acquisition of more power. Even in her nascent years, the young dark elf proved prodigious at weaving deceptions and ploys to undermine her adversaries and peers. It quickly became apparent that Maelora was a cunning and dangerous individual, mostly to those within her house. A handful of others within Holoth developed a grudging admiration for the current Matron Mother during her adolescence, not least when she took the initiative in serving vengeance upon the exiled mayor of Embla, the dwarf Nalc'Uk.
The story goes as follows. Having been left on the doorstep of Holoth, ex-mayor Nalc'Uk of Embla was purchased from the city guard by House Toulan. It was a simple if secret transaction. Then within a week, every one of the recipient guards was sent to a battlefront far from Holoth and has never been heard of again. To this day, House Toulan gold is regarded as cursed in some very far flung Underworld settlements, and attempting to pay for something with it gets you killed instantly at best and used for foul purposes at worst.
The Patron Father ensured that the dwarf was afforded every healing consideration to recover at the same time as inducing a number of dependencies into Nalc'Uk's physical and mental systems. This took time, and many believed the Master either had grown tired of the dwarf or had made a mistake in his calculations, with either situation leading to Nalc’Uk’s demise. But rather than weaken the former mayor, the Master had strengthened the dwarf’s already-iron constitution, ensuring the man could endure long and painful privations that had him begging for release at every moment. After four years his work was done; without ceremony, the Patron Father put the Emblanian up for sale to the highest bidder. Frenzy flooded the city as every noble worthy of the name vied to be the winner. The Master was cunning with the timing of the auction too. It lasted 33 days – a lunar cycle and the greatest five-day holiday celebrating the Spider Goddess, the city’s supreme deity. This wasn’t lot on the citizens.
Auctions in Holoth sometimes take on a life of their own, as a series of interwoven strands come into play. It ought to be the case that the Matron Mother of the highest ranking house wins either by asserting her will, or by having the greatest riches at her disposal. But when it comes to exacting revenge on a non-Holothian, the whole city becomes involved. Those who desire truly to win find they can benefit from a “sum greater than its parts” by forming alliances, calling in favors, making extravagant promises and sinister threats, and providing public and private services of all types. All of this revolves around what a bidder vows to do to the person revenge is being exacted on; flamboyance, longevity, imagination, terror, and humiliation grab the crowd’s attention, and the more degrading the intended show is, the better. Such auctions also become a chance to eliminate rivals, and bidders often use their foes to demonstrate what they will do to the creature being auctioned. All in all, such events are riotous times indeed.
A young cleric in House Gullion, Maelora, frustrated with the lowly position of her house, the lack of skill and ambition in her Matron Mother, and her own thwarted dreams due to both of these, plunged herself into a series of deep, dangerous reveries about Naraneus, quaffing venomous drafts that took her to the edge of insanity, death, and worse. The Spider Goddess deigned to notice these dreams and chose to look within Maelora. The deity’s gaze was severe and judgmental, able to spin its recipient into eternal insanity if they were found wanting in even the smallest way. But Naraneus saw the woman to be full of righteous desire: for her goddess, her people, her house, and herself. So she granted Maelora permission to bid, despite her lowly position in Holoth’s noble hierarchy and her Matron’s fearful approach to such events. At the same time, the Spider Goddess implanted in her newest vessel the start of an intricate web that would take decades to create but would ensure that She, Naraneus, would ultimately entrap a world! During the last of these visions, and with just eight days of the auction left, Maelora sprang into action.
With great urgency behind the scenes, the young drow did absolutely all she could to raise private funds: she made extravagant promises to people she knew she couldn’t trust; she formed pacts with those whose influence was waning and hoped for one final chance to climb to power on her back; she took loans against everything she owned three times, knowing her mind, body, and soul would be taken if she failed to pay back her debts; she borrowed at exorbitant rates; and she called in every debt she was owed and renounced every threat of malicious influence she had over others for hard coin. At the same time as this she spent the money by having a minor enemy assassinated on the hour every hour for the eight remaining days, each one killed by a different method that drew heavily on the physical and venomous methods associated with Naraneus. She did this anonymously, presenting only the stylized image of a Spider Goddess cleric as the initiator. The public flocked to her without knowing who she was, with banners displaying the likeness springing up everywhere even as more senior members of the nobility withdrew from the auction in fear of incurring the wrath of this mysterious high-powered cleric.
With just 36 hours to go there were three bidders remaining and Maelora knew that either the auction would make her forever or break her on the back of the winner. Then she took her greatest gamble, one that only a Chosen of Naraneus would dare think of, let alone enact. She took the form of the most revered image of the Spider Goddess and visited House Toulan’s Patron Father. It was reckless beyond all belief, but that was what drove her: belief in Naraneus, belief in her destiny as a cleric of the Spider Goddess, and belief that the omens showed her winning and growing in power. Using honeyed words and just the right level of sinister imperiousness, Maelora, with the Patron Father by her side, communed with Naraneus for the night before the auction. The sound of goddess’ spirit within both the drow echoed through the halls of the house, and none dared venture to their Father’s offices.
The next morning, on the day of the auction, House Toulan was run by a man sure of his own position in Naraneus’ mind at the same time as he was fearful of it all being a narcotic-induced nightmare. For he’d been shown who was behind the mask of the Spider Goddess, who was responsible for over 150 killings in just seven days, and who had made him a thrall to his physical weaknesses. There was nothing he could do for he had been beaten by the stronger drow. Resigned to hoping he could survive what might come next, the Patron Father had promised enough of his personal funds to Naraneus’ Chosen to ensure the result She expected one result in the forthcoming bidding. And so when the auction took place that night, the mysterious cleric responsible for so much blood-letting and with so many promises to keep stepped forward to beat her rivals. With the entire low-caste population behind her, and to the horror of those who expected sport at her expense, Maelora won. Holoth was never the same.
To this day rumors still spread of what other tortures the wayward dwarf suffered, and by now almost every Underworlder has heard one of the many tales of his 33 Enduring Sufferings; each lasted for a year, an event of as much pain as there was embarrassment. There were daily renditions of Nalc’Uk’s condition, frequent reports of what tool or venom had been used on him, and regular demonstrations on hapless foes of the methods being employed. Maelora’s power grew as did her clerical strength. At the same time, the web of dominion Naraneus intended to build through her took form, and her name became a byword for fearful retribution. Occasionally, when Maelora descended into frenzied depravity that rivaled anything seen before, someone might say that perhaps Nalc'Uk had suffered enough. But all that came of any pleas for a cessation was the petitioner becoming an additional victim for the cleric's horrific displays, always in front of Nalc'Uk, to ensure he was fully aware of his responsibility for the terrible deaths of his would-be saviors. But through all of this, the drow priestess used her clerical abilities to ensure that her prized dwarf never died. Finally Maelora’s display ended and an awed populace chose only to whisper her name.
There's no agreement in folklore as to what eventually became of the ruined Nalc'Uk. The most popular claims are that Maelora slowly and excruciatingly removed the dwarf's ears, eyes, nails, "unnecessary" bones and extremities, and then quartered him but prevented his death, leaving him a senseless and maimed wretch. The final ignominy was to enchant him so that even yet he projects a malevolent aura of death that either rapidly kills outright or induces a putrefying rot to everything he approaches, and that to this day he crawls through the Underworld, forever driven deeper into the subterranean darkness by a duo of the Matron Mother's most adoring driders, themselves blessed with immortality by Naraneus.
Now, traders and explorers meeting with anyone who has been to Holoth during recent events spread the word of Maelora's diabolical deeds far throughout the Underworld. Tales say that her creative ability to draw intense emotions and sensations from Nalc'Uk is what eventually reached and enticed the vidre, positing her as a predictable source of learning and power to the crystalline beings. After slaying her mother and ascending to the position of Matron, Maelora searched far and wide to improve and cement her own position as well as elevate the Gullions to become the First House of Holoth.
And as for those to whom she owed something? They either wrote off the debt or simply disappeared. If the next drow in line insisted on collecting, they too vanished. Matron Maelora sat at the center of the web designed by Naraneus, but knew she was charged with taking the fight out from Holoth. This seemed impossible until she obtained the Vidrefacte from the exotic outsiders, and she has since enacted plans that stretch beyond the subterranean realms and into Upperworld itself.
“Murder is a word that summons visions of rage, deception, and barely-controlled vengeance. But those motives are for the weak-willed and emotion-bound. Elite minds, progressive thinkers, those who dare to see the grand future where OUR beauty rules all, know murder is not such a vile, unspeakable word. For when one stands against the will of the many, when one works to be the destruction of a house, when one is the disease which rots us all from the inside, she must be removed.
Yes, CUT OUT!! When the body and mind are cleansed, the spirit is free to act with noble intent.
Now I see through your eyes, see more clearly the ill-conceived vision you have for yourself: your poor decisions, your foolish ambitions, your witless banter with other houses in a vain attempt to better yourself in the eyes of your peers, peers who laugh at you, not with you. When they return to their houses, they mock your lack of wealth, lack of power, lack of faith in our Spider Goddess who grants us everlasting life, the Mother who feeds our desire and lust for power, making us the better people we are.
But I no longer wish to see through your eyes. Know with certainty that the dagger pierces as does the sting of the spider, plunging deep, forcing your worthless blood to flow unquenched upon my hands. Be certain of the relish I feel in cradling your dying-then-lifeless body in my arms. Be aware that a single tear will roll from my eye and be captured in a vial to use in my final spell, because yes, I have planned my actions that far ahead, and that neither domination of this pathetic city, nor of this region, is my goal. Know too that when I walk with your corpse to the highest floor of your wretched house, yet still sitting at the lowest point in the minds of those who run this city, and I drop you over the edge toward the stalagmites below, I look further than the walls that surround and enclose us.
For when your limp, lifeless, unwavering body falls, a translucent shroud flapping around your naked flesh as you plummet hard to the floor of the cavern; when you are finally impaled upon a sharpened stalagmite for all to see; when my daughter, the oracle, rushes to steal your remaining blood for her magic and laughs in your face as your essence spends its last; know all this is for our ultimate conquest.
Not to be a house that stands apart, nor to rule this broken city of Holoth. I desire what has always been denied: the Upperworld. It will be mine...as soon as I cow the vidre with my ‘gift’ of your life."