A Sticky Spiderweb Situation
Falkrunn and Gundren ran through the abandoned shells of squat homes in the dank cavern, the distant sound of crashing waves still audible beneath them. They rounded a corner and took the carved steps upwards to a second level of houses, actively searching for the two Elves.
Suddenly, a giant hawk swooped down from the darkness and circled over Falkrunn’s head. “Look! A message from Keyzana,” she said in a hushed voice. “Let’s follow him.”
Falkrunn spotted Keyzana a few minutes later and came up to her, panting. “We thought we heard Ghouls,” she whispered
Keyzana nodded her head in the direction of a house and Olara whispered back. “We found some Ghouls holed up in that house.”
“What should we do?”
“They haven’t seen us yet, so perhaps we should leave them.”
“Agreed,” Gundren said. “Let’s not start any fights we don’t need. Where are the others?”
“There, see the torch?” She pointed down below. The torch was bobbing along through the darkness back across the stone bridge. “Not sure what they were doing back over the bridge.”
“HELLO!” The deep, booming voice of Flavio echoed through the cavern with magical enhancement. “COMPANIONS. WHERE ARE YOU? WE ARE STANDING NEAR THE BRIDGE. PLEASE JOIN US.”
“Idiots,” Falkrunn swore, and they all spun and pushed their bodies up against the outer walls of the house containing the Ghouls, flanking the door in case they came out. The gnawing sounds of the Ghoul’s feasting stopped for a moment and they heard sniffing and grunting. Then, after what seemed like a lifetime of collectively held breaths, the gnawing continued.
They all looked at each other in exasperation, then ran down the steps to find the other three.
Gundren came up to Flavio first. “Lad, could you bend down for just a moment?” Flavio did, and Gundren backhanded him across the head.
“What do you think you’re doing? We’re in an unmapped cave, likely surrounded by enemies, and we are trying to find my brother—alive.”
“Ow,” Flavio said pointedly, rubbing the back of his head and blinking. “Jeez, why is everyone always hitting me? We weren’t sure where you all were.”
“We checked the tunnel we had passed previously,” Lorskan told them. “The one that glowed green. It was full of some strange glowing plants. Nothing of value.”
“Well great,” Falkrunn sighed, eyeing the Druid, who held up the torch and looked around in disinterest. “My uncle and I found a tunnel that looks promising. Shall we move on, before we’re eaten by Ghouls?”
“Let’s,” said Olara, and without another argument, they moved on.
They descended the black stone steps into a finely carved hallway lined with thick, geometric columns. Before each column stood stone sculptures of regal looking Dwarves and Gnomes. Ahead of them lay two large doors, clearly designed by Dwarvish artisans.
Gundren stepped up to the first door and tugged, but it wouldn’t budge. He immediately stepped over to the other and pulled it open, entering the room to investigate. Falkrunn followed him in.
In the dim light, she could make out large barrels lining the walls. “Think there’s ale in those barrels?” She asked.
“Whisky, I hope,” Gundren said, and kicked a toe against the nearest barrel. It echoed hollowly. With a disappointed frown, he tested a few other barrels, but they all appeared to be empty.
There was crashing out in the hallway, and the two Dwarves rushed back into the hallway. Lorskan was actively trying to break down the door with his hammer, cracks and splinters slowly starting to show in the thick wood.
“Let me give it a go,” Gundren said with a grunt, raising his own hammer and beating at the door.
“I can do it,” Flavio finally said, and with a few well-placed strikes later, he had created a sizable hole in the wood. One by one, the companions stepped through, Reidoth holding the torchlight out to fill the room.
“At least it makes them feel important,” Falkrunn overheard Keyzana whispering to Olara.
An oval table made of thick gray stone stood central in the room. Broken bits of decaying wooden chairs lay as scattered remnants of a society long lost. A few skeletons sat hunched in a corner. Starved or stabbed, one could not tell by a glance.
Along the walls were stone shelves housing smashed pottery and a few centuries worth of accumulated dust. Flavio hmphed at a stone chest in the corner of the room as he worked his hands over the top of it, examining the edges. Lorskan came up next to him and eyed the chest greedily. “You, Elf.” He grunted, waving an arm at Olara, “open this.”
“You could say please,” she said, but her curiosity had her attention and she bent down and began picking at the lock. After a moment, there was the faint sound of a mechanism working, following by a click. The mechanism tripped, and a dart shot straight out and caught the Elf in the hand. She pulled away, cursing as the skin around the dart immediately turned purple and began to swell. “Poison,” she yelped, dropping her lockpick.
Falkrunn reached out and pulled the dart, casting it aside. “Let me look,” Flavio said, pushing through. “Reidoth, bring that light a little closer.” The Druid leaned in with the torch, illuminating the wound. “I can heal it,” the human told Olara, taking her hand gingerly and turning it from side to side. Then he reached into his cloak and pulled out a small vial, handing it to the Elf with a flourish. “A healing potion will do the trick.”
Olara took the vial gratefully and uncorked it, downing the potion with a grimace. Looking down, the swelling in her hand deflated and her skin returned to its pale, milky white complexion. “Well, I’m not trying that again,” she said, bending down and picking up her lockpick and stowing it away.
Falkrunn eyed the stone chest warily, but it looked as though the only trap in it had sprung. Flavio raised his hammer in the air and cracked it down on the chest with a two-handed blow. It broke in one solid, jagged piece and Lorskan pried it the rest of the way open with his long nails. Gold coins spilled out onto the floor along with a few broken glass vials, their contents dripping out. A single vial remained unscathed.
Lorskan took out a ring crested with a large sapphire gem and gave it over to Flavio, who eyed it cautiously. He also held two bracers, which he immediately took for himself.
“I can sense magic in them,” Keyzana said with interest as the men stowed the items out of sight. “I have a lot of experience with magic. Perhaps you should allow me, the wizard, to inspect them?” They shrugged and ignored her suggestion. She tossed her hands in the air in frustration. “Glad we could share.”
They divvied up the gold quickly amongst themselves, Gundren impatiently tapping his foot. Falkrunn feared what they would find if they continued to search for her other uncle. Her thoughts were dark as they left the strange room and continued through the hallway.
Ahead, the ground was oddly uneven. A thick plate of stone sat too high above the ground. “Stop,” Olara said, pointing down. “It could be a trap.”
Lorskan bent and tossed a stone. A loud click click click followed by a woosh sounded as two darts flew through the air in front of them. Immediately after being released, the trap clicked as it reset. “Good eye,” Falkrunn breathed, and they kept to the walls, stepping around the uneven stone.
They encountered two more doors a short way ahead. One was small and seemingly insignificant, and upon trying to open it, they found it was stuck.
The second was at least eight feet tall and had a carving depicting a mountain crested with a faceted gemstone. It was the sign of the Dwarf god Dumathoin, the Keeper of Secrets under the Mountain. Falkrunn moved forward immediately and opened the door with a low creak. The others worked at the smaller door, but Falkrunn was much more interested in what lay here.
Ahead of her was a long stone room flanked by six marble columns. At the far wall stood a large statue of Dumathoin, and inside his eyes gleamed two massive, cut emeralds. Falkrunn stared up at them greedily, as only a Dwarf could, and strode forward.
She made it halfway across the room before she stopped dead in her tracks. The voice of a woman tsked and say, “well, well, well. Look who finally decided to show up.”
Falkrunn spun, and against one of the marble columns leaned the tall, lithe figure of the Drow they had fought in Cragmaw castle. The one who had nearly killed Gundren and escaped. Though she appeared to be a Drow, she was truly a doppelgänger under a guise. She had once pretended to be her uncle.
“Vhalak, we’ve got company,” she hissed, a smile playing on her dark lips. Falkrunn twitched a hand up to cast a spell, but before she could move the Drow leapt forward with a kick. Falkrunn instead ducked back out of the way, narrowly avoiding her flying leg.
A male Drow was suddenly there and raised a fist, which grew into a massive, vibrating shape that flew towards Falkrunn and landed in her stomach with a rippling effect that dented her armour. She fell back, winded and clutching a cracked rib.
Gasping, she saw Keyzana cast a spell from the doorway. Giant webs flew from her fingertips and attached to the pillars, creating a giant boxed-in wall of webs. Falkrunn rolled to the side to avoid them. “The webs attract fire!” The Elf called out to her companions, who were presumably still out in the hallway.
Both Drows dove out of the way before they could be entangled by the webs, and stood at a crouch over Falkrunn, their heads now turned away from her. She winced and fell again as she tried to stand.
Olara spun around the doorway and released an arrow, which struck the female Drow through her thin armour. She pulled the arrow out of her side and cast it to the ground as Olara ducked back for cover. She was bleeding slightly but seeming unbothered by the wound.
While they were distracted, Falkrunn managed to reach up and take out her longsword. She bounded at the male Drow who had punched her. He caught her from his periphery and tried to move out of the way, but her blade caught his arm, leaving a long gash. Gundren had also appeared at the doorway and was throwing hand axes at the female, who was desperately trying to duck out of the way but was limited by the webs surrounding them.
Falkrunn looked up abruptly as the sound of skittering filled the room. The ceiling was moving with the sight of four massive black spiders, and she stepped back. One dropped down right in front of her, between herself and the Drow called Vhalak. “Bloody h—”
The spider opened its giant maw and spat out a thick white gob at Falkrunn, who was immediately enveloped in its sticky web. Her sword clattered to the ground and she fell back, banging her head on stone. Her vision went white for a moment and she clenched her fists, waiting for the pain to fade. Vhalak stood over her and kicked a boot into her side, drawing a gasp of pain as he connected with her cracked rib.
Towering, thick-legged spiders advanced on the company, pincers clacking in the stale air.
Flavio leaned over the unconscious Dwarf with the thick auburn beard streaked with silver. The Dwarf’s head was shaved, his eyebrows unruly, and he was dressed in dark clothing thick with grime. A large cut on his forehead explained his heavy slumber, and Flavio examined his body for further wounds. “This must be Gundren’s brother,” Lorskan said in a low voice from the doorway. Flavio nodded in response.
There was a loud shout, something about fire and a web? Was that Falkrunn swearing? Then, something like an explosion of air from the next room. Lorskan looked out with a worried glance. “Watch the Dwarf! I’ll see what’s happened.”
Flavio found evidence of broken ribs and a bruised spine. “Reidoth, could you bring that torch a tad closer?”
“Spiders! Huge ones!” Reidoth stammered from the hallway. “You’d better come!” Then he ran off, leaving Flavio to stumble out of the tiny broom closet in the darkness, through the small shattered door, and out into the hallway.
Keyzana slammed her shimmering staff into the ground, creating a glowing shield around herself as the female Drow attacked her. Her first punch connected with Keyzana’s shoulder, and she stumbled back and reinforced her spell. She raised her other hand and a spark of flames lit her palm. She threw the flame and it hit the webs and spread rapidly.
Olara came around the corner again and shot a spider with one of her arrows, but the bolt stuck in its hide and broke off as it moved, seemingly unharmed. She jumped back and drew out another arrow, taking a few long breaths.
Struggling against the constricting web, Falkrunn wiggled on the floor, hoping to move closer to her sword. Vhalak was standing over her, grinning at her despair and taking no mind to her other companions. She focused her gaze on the doppelgänger, and with a lungful cast her spell of vicious mockery. “You coward,” she spat, “beating an unarmed, unmoving opponent. You sicken me.”
The spell hit, and he stepped back as though slapped and put a hand to his head.
Falkrunn smiled and continued her wriggling, desperately trying to reach something to cut the webs.
With a bellow, Gundren swung his hammer into the female Drow’s gut, and though she was shocked by the ferocity of the Dwarf, she recovered and stood tall, wincing only slightly.
“If you want something done,” a deep, echoing voice came from somewhere across the room, “then I suppose you ought to do it yourself.”
Gundren looked up as the tall, dark figure of a Drow shimmered and appeared seemingly from thin air. He wore a black cloak, behind which flowed long white hair and striking blue eyes. In his hand he held a long black staff, and he waved his other hand in front of himself, causing mage armour to appear over his body.
It was the Black Spider.
The one they had been searching for ever since that fateful day in Phandalin, in the Tresendar Manor, when they found the note inside Glasstaff’s mahogany desk.
“Bastard,” Gundren snarled, gripping his hammer tighter.
The webs had nearly all been engulfed in flames, causing the spiders to pull back and shriek as they were singed. Just as Keyzana barked her triumph, a spider pounced, pincers flailing, and bit her in the shoulder.
The Elf’s smooth face went blank with pain as black veins crawled with alarming speed up her neck and across her skin. Her voice cracked as she tried to formulate words, her hands partially raised. She first dropped her staff, then she herself collapsed onto the floor, unconscious and paralyzed.
Gundren heard her fall and spun just in time to see another giant spider coming towards him, pincers clacking. He ducked out of its reach.
All of this had happened in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, Lorskan was at the door. “What the blazes?” he said, looking around at the recumbent Elf, bound Dwarf, four massive spiders, and three Drows.
He breathed fire into the room, causing the spiders to shriek and recoil from the flames. Falkrunn barely managed to wriggle out of the flames, and once again felt the wonderful sensation of being singed by Lorskan’s fiery breath.
Flavio came into the room a few seconds after Lorskan, taking in the scene. He raised a hand and cast a bolt into the air at the female Drow, but she easily ducked from the missile and strode in their direction. Flavio prepared his three magical stones with some quick words as she approached, and Lorskan defended a blow from the woman’s striking fist.
Falkrunn felt the web give way as the flames ate around it, and she pulled free from the rest of the chords. She got to her feet and looked around for her sword, which lay a few feet away. She bent to retrieve it and felt excruciating pain as she felt her body turn to led. Turning, the last thing she saw was the huge black pincers of an eight-legged creature.
Then, her vision went dark.
Olara replaced her bow with a longsword and twisted it expertly in her hands. With a cry, she leapt again from behind the doorway and struck out at the nearest spider, which had just curled away from a bout of the Dragonborn’s flames. She slid beneath the belly of the beast and, with a two-handed grip, drove the blade up into the spider’s abdomen and tore through it, spilling its insides onto the floor and sliding out the other side with a grin.
Gundren came at the female Drow as she dodged Lorskan’s flames. He smashed into her with his hammer, a scream of rage on his lips, and she spun on her heel to face her attacker. She tried to catch the next strike, but he hit her to her knees. Before the woman could catch her breath, Gundren slammed his foot into her chest and knocked her to the ground, then laid his hammer into her skull and drew out a final, clear note of terror as her head exploded under the force of it.
He wiped a bit of brains and gore from his face where they had splattered.
“Vyerith! Sister!” Vhalak cried. “Nooooo!”
Falkrunn awoke hazily, her head swimming with pain. She had been bit by a spider, but—no, not paralyzed. She crawled to her blade and sheathed it in the scabbard at her back, then got to her feet unsteadily with the aid of the nearest marble column. The dizziness overcame her, and she vomited on the floor. She rested a shaking hand over her chest and cast a healing spell, which immediately cleared her head.
She looked up and saw two massive spiders noticing her recovery. With a yelp, she turned to run. She felt the leg of one of the spiders zip past her through the air, but the second one bounded further than she would believe and took her to the ground. She held her hands out as two pincers began to ferociously open and close over her face.
Her shoulder burned fiercely, the wounds not yet fully healed, and her strength gave way. The spider tore into her and, for the second time in five minutes, Falkrunn was unconscious again. And this time, she couldn’t feel her body.
“I’ll kill you!” Vhalak snarled, running at Gundren.
“You’re welcome to try!” he chuckled.
“STOP!” The Black Spider ordered, and Vhalak halted. The body of his dead sister had transformed back into its original form: a sickly grey creature with a bulbous head, tiny eyes and slimy flesh. A doppelgänger.
“I’m willing to make a deal,” the Black Spider said with a wicked grin, spreading his free hand out at the companions. “You don’t stand a chance against me and my compatriots, so why not work with us? We can find the forge of spells together.”
“If you really want to make a deal,” Gundren said, still gripping his hammer tightly, “then let us heal our friends.”
The Black Spider looked at him thoughtfully, his gaze drifting over the two unconscious bodies. “Drop your weapons, and I’ll call off my spiders.”
“Never,” Gundren snarled, raising his hammer and charging with a scream.
The Black Spider flicked a finger lazily, and half of the room was enveloped in an all-consuming darkness. All those in the doorway were completely blinded. Unfortunately, the darkness didn’t seem to bother the spiders.
A spider shot a huge web at Lorskan, wrapping him in its web. Still standing, he stepped back in the darkness and tried to rip free. He was reminded again of the physical changes he underwent with his transformation. He was no longer as strong as he once was.
Gundren felt a piercing sting in his back and swung around blindly, searching for the source. Flavio cast magic stones into the air but did not hear them hit anything solid. Olara aimed into the darkness and listened for the sound of spider legs skittering. She released and heard her arrow pierce something. There was a heavy thud as a creature fell to the ground. She grinned to herself and blinked, which changed nothing.
Gundren managed to move out of the darkness around one of the pillars, and saw the Black Spider frantically gathering up loose papers from a table against the wall and stuffing them into a bag. He turned to see Gundren and, continuing to gather up his notes, said “this is your last chance to work with me, or I’ll be forced to kill you and your friends.” He straightened, meeting Gundren’s gaze with an oddly sincere gleam in his greedy eyes. “We could be rich together, Gundren.”
Gundren’s thoughts wavered for a moment as he thought of the insurmountable wealth in the forge. But, then he thought of his brother, lost to him. His other brother, missing. His niece, unconscious and dying. His torture in Cragmaw castle. He shook his head. “You think I’m trapped in here with you, but you’re the one who’s trapped in here with me.”
“So be it,” the Black Spider sighed, closing his satchel. “Good luck finding the forge.”
With a flash, he shot three magic missiles at the Dwarf and pierced him thrice. Gundren stumbled back and narrowly avoided a spider as it leaped in his direction. Momentarily distracted from the pain, he swung his hammer around at the spider as it came in for another attack, and smashed it to the ground, turning its solid head to ruin. He stepped over the body and pulled the three darts from his breast, casting them aside as he gazed back at the Black Spider.
The Drow hesitated at the fury in those Dwarven eyes. Gundren raised his hammer and struck before the taller opponent could jump out of the way. The Black Spider took the hit and dropped to his knees, his face frozen in a look of fear. He muttered an incantation and disappeared from sight.
Gundren cursed and spun to see the darkness had vanished.
Lorskan, still entangled in the web, took a fair beating from Vhalak, who seemed in the mood to beat unarmed opponents into the ground. The Drow had taken an arrow in his side from Olara’s shot in the dark, and just as their world turned from utter blackness to bleak dimness, Flavio cast a magical bolt. It struck Vhalak in the chest and his eyes filled with white flames, burning out his life.
As his body struck the floor, it transformed into the ghastly figure of a doppelgänger.
All those who were conscious and unbound rushed to the doorway. “He’s gone invisible,” Gundren told them, holding his chest and taking laboured breaths. “Does anyone know how to make him visible again? A spell perhaps? We can’t let him get away.”
They all shook their heads. Olara narrowed her Elven eyes and scanned the room, catching her eyes on a movement in the hallway. A shadow cast by the flickering flames in Reidoth’s hands.
She slowly drew out an arrow, nocked it, took aim, and released. The arrow hit solid flesh but seemed to hang in the air of its own accord. Then, with a groan, the Black Spider fell face first to the ground and shimmered into sight. The arrow had buried itself in his spine.
The Black Spider was dead.
The celebration was short-lived.
At that moment, the last living spider struck from behind the wall and came at Lorskan, who was still wrapped in webs. The Dragonborn cast a wordless spell, his eyes glowing, and the spider flew back. Lorskan finally ripped out of the webs with a roar and Flavio cast a sacred flame as the spider skittered out of the way, hunched down and surveying its prey.
Gundren threw down his shield and, with two hands clutching his hammer, slammed into the spider’s torso. It shuddered for a moment, legs twitching, and fell as a corpse.
With a final, triumphant sigh and a pat on Olara’s back, Gundren clambered up the large statue of the Dwarf god Dumathoin and began to pry at one of the sparkling emerald eyes. His niece would appreciate the effort.
Lorskan placed a hand on Falkrunn’s cold forehead and revived her with his healing. She came to, gasping and flailing and looking around for a fight that had already been won. With some disappointment, she sat back on the heels of her hands and harrumphed. “Looks like I missed all the fun.” She looked over at Gundren across the room, struggling to get an emerald, and called out. “Hey uncle, get one for me!” The Dwarf chuckled and pulled out a dagger to cut the jewel free.
Flavio healed Keyzana, and the Elf was extremely displeased at missing the entire fight. “Aren’t you supposed to be a healer?” She accused of Flavio.
“I did heal you,” he said, gesturing to her ability to now stand and walk around.
“Yeah, after the fight. Couldn’t you have healed me sooner?” she waggled her fingers in the air, “I’m a wizard, after all. Probably would have been helpful.”
“Well, obviously it wasn’t,” Flavio said, and walked away.
In the hallway, Olara skimmed through the papers the Black Spider had stuffed away.
Gundren pulled the first jewel free and there was a loud rumble as the ceiling began to shake. “Oh,” he said, thrusting the emerald under one arm and dashing for the door. As rocks and debris fell down around them, he scooped up his dropped shield and slid into the hallway, Falkrunn right behind him, bleeding but alive.
“Genius,” Lorskan said with rolled eyes as the Dwarves emerged, panting.
Gundren held up the large stone to his niece with a pleased grin.
Lorskan and Flavio took the others to the Dwarf they had found in the room next door. They had smashed the door to splinters, and inside, Falkrunn’s uncle lay supine. Gundren rushed to him and lay a hand on his brother’s forehead. When Flavio confirmed that his injuries were not life threatening, Gundren insisted that they bring him to consciousness. Flavio handed him a healing potion, and Nundro was soon awake but hazy.
“What? Where—the Black Spider—who’s this, now?”
“I’ve gotch’a, brother,” Gundren said with a smile. “It’s alright now. The Black Spider’s dead.”
“That’s right, just relax. Hey Nundro, look at this gem,” Gundren said proudly, holding up the emerald for his brother to see.
Olara showed them a map of the caves that had been hastily drawn. The Black Spider had scrawled notes across the map, and their eyes caught on the section that said, ‘Forge of Spells, this way?’
A new ring glimmered on Olara’s finger. “Where’d you get that?” Falkrunn asked curiously, pointing at the pink gemstone.
“I took it off the Black Spider,” she said, stowing away the map. “Keyzana said it should cast some form of protection over me.”
“If you give me that ring, I’ll give you these bracers I found,” Lorksan offered, showing her what he had dug from the stone chest that had poisoned Olara. “They’re archery bracers.” The Elf shrugged and made the trade, and they went off to discuss their new treasures.
Keyzana had taken his black staff, and she now held two staffs, one in each hand. “Can I see that?” Falkrunn asked, and the Elf handed the staff over. She examined its smooth black lines and tiny inscriptions. The staff didn’t glow or emit any sort of radiance. Falkrunn sniffed it, then put a tongue on the wood. It tasted bitter and sickly.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Keyzana advised. “I believe it has poisonous qualities.”
“Good thing I didn’t lick more of it,” Falkrunn chuckled, handing it back.
Gundren hoisted Nundro onto his back and gestured for them to leave. Olara took the lead. They went back down the hallway, skirting the traps in the floor, ascended the carved stairs, and turned left to go down the natural cavern tunnel. The tunnel opened into a wide room with a small channel cut into the stone. The channel had gone dry, and an unmoving, rotten waterwheel sat stagnant next to an empty furnace. Near that stood a twenty-foot tall door inscribed in gold with Dwarvish runes, scorched and smeared with ash from long forgotten flames.
Gundren set his brother down slowly, and the Dwarves looked up to read the inscription.
“Forge of Spells,” Falkrunn read aloud reverently, “Pandelver’s Pact, Established 872 DR.”
“We made it.” Gundren whispered, squeezing his brother’s shoulder. “Finally.”
To be continued…