Szarkai (pronounced: /ˈzɑːrkaɪ/ ZAHRK-eye), meaning "ghost spiders", were albino drow. Although extremely rare and a subject of mystery, they could easily pass as normal elves, making them ideal spies for the drow noble houses, able to operate freely in the surface world.
As albinos, they had pale, bone-white, or even alabaster-white skin and red eyes, but otherwise appeared as ordinary drow elves in all other respects. Ironically, this meant they resembled many of the surface elf races, and could pass as albino surface elves, and not be suspected as drow.
Many drow thought of szarkai as a separate race, but they were genetically identical, possessing only the traits of albinism. Nevertheless, some had minor deformities, such as a lack of hair, small fangs, or gnarled and claw-like hands, suggesting the popular view had a slight basis in fact.
Szarkai possessed all the same magical powers as ordinary drow, and the same vulnerability to bright light, which was similar to what an albino might normally suffer anyway.
Szarkai had much the same inclinations as the rest of their drow kin, being often of a neutral evil bent, but usually possessed more of a cool air and great patience. They were often more skilled at cruel or subtle intrigues.
They planned to never get caught up in combat, choosing instead to leave the dirty work to others or simply wait their opponents out. When forced into a fight, their first aim was to escape, as soon as possible. Otherwise, they preferred to eliminate an enemy quickly, quietly, and with no trace of their involvement.
Szarkai were the result of a very rare mutation, appearing in only 0.01% of the drow population. They were relatively more common among the noble houses than among lower castes, though it was unknown if this was the product of inbreeding or meddling by the goddess Lolth. The birth of a szarkai was viewed as the blessing of Lolth upon a family, and thus they were dubbed szarkai, or "ghost spiders". Other drow looked on them in awe. They were far too valuable to risk in the cutthroat politics of drow society, or to be murdered by chance in the streets.
Thus, their existence was kept a secret from all, known only to the highest-ranking members of a family and those who had a vital need to know. Kept apart from everyday drow life, szarkai were sequestered and lived much safer than many other drow, though no less harsh or corruptive. They tended to receive personal attention and training from the very cruelest of priestesses and the most duplicitous of nobles. Almost from birth, they were trained as spies and saboteurs and readied for a life undercover on the surface, living among elves and in human cities where elves were common, where they could operate without suspicion. When they'd completed their training and had the necessary skills, szarkai were sent on deep-cover, long-term assignments to the surface, to advance the plots of their houses and of the Spider Queen.
Szarkai agents might be engaged in simple gathering of information and passing what they learned back to the masters, or in learning the lay of the land and the makeup of local politics. Some might form sleeper cells with the goal of future sabotage or attack. Otherwise, they would be agents provocateur, discreetly manipulating surface-dwellers, turning would-be allies against the drow against one another instead, inflicting sabotage, and keeping communities small and vulnerable. Very rarely did their work involve base assassination, as eliminating single specific persons was inconsequential to drow aims, and it carried too great a risk of discovery. Instead, these szarkai provocateurs had long-term goals, their plans reaching across generations of lesser races, so subtle and stretched so thin as to be undetectable. They might take centuries to come together.
Szarkai provocateurs often trained in areas that would give them skills in scheming and misdirection, following the paths of the bard, cloaked dancer, shadowdancer, and spymaster. Szarkai provocateurs made an effort to avoid liches, finding the undying mages to have a knack for seeing through their disguises and acts and for seeing the full scale of their schemes.
Without the space or resources of their houses in their home cities, szarkai agents on missions had to take all they needed with them. Undercover, they avoided the spider-themed and otherwise frightful accoutrements that drow were known for.
Darien was a szarkai mage and spy of the Ancient Ones, the drow of Maztica, who was sent to Faerûn to find someone they could use in their efforts to gain control over the cult of Zaltec. In the guise of an albino elf, she found Cordell, and with him founded the Golden Legion, becoming one of his most trusted leaders and his lover. Ten years later, they journeyed west over the seas, discovering Maztica in the Year of the Helm, 1372 DR. With Darien's magic, they defeated the armies of Payit and slew the leader of Kultaka. Finally, in an attack on Nexal, center of worship of Zaltec, Darien slew the ruler Naltecona. However, in the resulting destruction of the city, Lolth turned the Ancient Ones into driders, and Darien into an albino drider, in punishment for their failures.
One of the most infamous szarkai in Faerûn was Irae T'sarran, a noble of House T'sarran and high priestess of Kiaransalee. She conquered the drow city of Maerimydra in the name of her goddess during the silence of Lolth in the Year of Wild Magic, 1372 DR, summoned the Undying Temple to Castle Maerimydra, and commenced a grand ritual to raise an army of revenants to conquer, until finally she was defeated by adventurers.
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