We were traveling along the Arborway, managing about three leagues each day. The ground leveled as we left the highlands around the city. Dark cypresses loomed along the verges, grave-markers to the forgotten laborers who died hundreds of years before when the ancient road was born. It was chilly and intermittently rainy. We seven had come to know each other slightly better on the road as we pursued the intermittent reports of a man in a dark cloak who rode hard and changed horses often.
At around noon, riding towards Riverpass (at the bridge over the Entrepes) we noticed the smell of smoke—a large fire, several days ago as best Narayan can tell. At the verges of town we met people are sawing wood in the forest and carrying planks into the village. We passed sign to the Soldiers’ Stone, which Narayan, Vikram and Amata recognize as a memorial to Imperial Legionaries and a pilgrimage site for the Holy Confraternity of the Poor Knights of the Dusk Lady—the Dusk Knights.
An old man, seeing us, approached and told us that a man in a black cloak burnt the bridge with “fire that stuck and crawled around” and was impervious to water. Well, shit. The nearest ford was at Soldiers’ Stone, about 2 leagues distant. We set off for it, following a track out of the village and into the Ruttish Wood. By rainy twilight, we left the wood and reached open ground. A town of low, turf-roofed houses huddled in the valley below us; a white obelisk stood in its center, shining among the humble dwellings. None of the chimneys were smoking. The town looked empty. Near the center of town there was a white, domed building, probably a temple to Paela. We would have to pass through the town to reach the ford.
Scouting ahead, Collaín noticed the smell of old blood and rotting corpses. There is also an odd, metallic odor. He pried open the window of a house to find it deserted, with soot-coated walls and humble, everyday articles scattered on the ground. As he entered the town he thought he heard a very faint buzzing sound above the roar of the river and the patter of the rain. The stench of decay, and the bizarre metallic scent, grows stronger. He returns and reports back.
Narayan seemed interested in the buzzing: apparently there are rumors of giant invertebrates in the north. We proceeded cautiously into town, surrounded by the cloying stink of decay and the faint metallic odor. Narayan explored another hut. In this one, the walls were coated in something white and webby and large, lump-like cocoonish things lay on the ground. We opened one of the smaller ones to find a small child, desiccated like the mummies of the ancients. As we deliberated—stay in the town or hurry to the river—a cloaked figure approached. He seemed somehow disoriented, or, at least, he moved in an odd, slightly unnatural way. Under the shadow of his cloak we glimpsed a pale, thin-lipped face. A thin arm beckoned, and we followed through the town. In other ruined houses we see hints of other cocoon-like masses.
Kinaa, Asha and Amata, following the cloaked man, suddenly sank into a pit—the ground was in fact merely a tissue of webbing. The two dragonborn spurred their horses to safety, but Asha was not so lucky. She and her horse tumbled into the pit along with the cloaked stranger. As he abandoned his cloak, his limbs seemed to multiply, and what had been such a convincing face under the dark hood caught the light like the brittle, shiny shell of a beetle. The creature’s “face” was no more than a chitinous plate that vaguely resembled an opera mask. We realized this in a horrible rush as the spider-thing started advancing on Asha.
He – it – shot a jet of black slime at her, hitting her on the cheek. Everyone attacked as one. It oozed a dark ichor that reeked of the strange metallic smell we had noticed earlier. Scenting its fellow’s distress, a second sidled out from behind a house, followed by several more. They move with eerie silence. After a long and complicated battle, we defeated all seven of them. It was growing darker. At Amata’s urging, we decided to skirt the rest of the town and make for the ford. As we passed a small house, we saw the corpse of a web-wrapped man in the doorway. In his desiccated hands rested a runed sword that bore the sigil of the Dusk Knights. Kinaa leaned from his horse and snatched it in a scaly hand.
After another ten minutes of swift but cautious riding, past many more ruined houses and what seemed to be a large barn full of death, we reached the low, rocky shoreline of the river, flowing slowly across the ford. Or, perhaps flowing. The ford was totally obscured by an elaborate, tent-like spiderweb, buzzing softly and grotesquely, studded with small sacks of translucent pulsing slime. The gruesome edifice swayed gently in the breeze.
On the desperate hope that the town wasn’t entirely abandoned, we decided to visit the temple and see if there were friends there. As we turned our backs on the river, a twelve-foot-tall spider burst out of the ground behind us.
The massive arthropod shook itself and gallops towards us, striking us with its limbs and scattering us through the air. As we turn to attack the monster, an arrow from the bell tower of the temple flew toward the beast and landed quivering in the mud at its jointed feet. Narayan spoke some strange words that seemed to slow and disorient the beast. In its confused state, it staggered toward Amata and grabbed her as it collapses, injuring her before she could squirm free. Kinaa circled the sleeping spider, breathing ice on it and then striking hard with his sword. Amata’s vengeful glaive and Collaín’s sword further weakened the creature. Asha finished it off.
We turned toward the temple, this time traveling in a defensible formation. Another giant spider—they moved so silently!—blocked our path. It pushed through us, wounding several with its claws and tossing Kinaa through the air with its mandibles. We rallied to battle the monster. It yielded to our assault, but as it seemed on its last legs, another five spider-men drifted out from the rain. After a taste of our steel, though, they retreated toward the temple. We killed the spider and followed.
When we reached the temple, a man with a long mustache met us in the doorway. He hurried us inside with longbow and quiver. The inside of the temple is dark, with only a single lamp lighted. Even in the dimness, though, the gold leaf on the wall opposite shone splendidly. Our host barricaded the door behind us. It became apparent that the crypt is flooded. A small wooden door in the southeast corner led to the bell tower; there were no other doors except the one we came in by.
Several men, women and children were scattered around the temple, eyeing us suspiciously. All the adults are armed, either with swords or bows. Our host introduces himself as Ugos Aleman, former innkeeper. His wife, teenage son and little twin daughters huddled in a corner. Also present were a young squire ordinary of the Dusk Knights, Squire Esteve, and Herald Mireo, a young woman from distant Cantorhill. She said she had a message to deliver to Reyen.
We knew the ford would be difficult because of the spider nest. To make matters worse, Ugos told us there was at least one big spider left. The nest will also have a Praetor in it – the leader of the group. Apparently they’ve been collecting human-nectar for their queen below the ground. There was a ferry another day’s ride to the north, but we’d lose two more days, and who knew what new terror awaited there.
Our talk with Ugos was rudely interrupted there. The young squire cried out “Thief! That’s my master’s sword!” The dead man Kinaa took it from was the squire’s master, a great knight. Haraldr confirmed that the runes on the hilt read, “In payment of debt to a good man, I, Nokkvi Sturkur, made this.” Kinaa, however, did not return his new sword.
The Herald urged us to make haste. She had a message to deliver from Cantorhill to Reyen. We further considered whether to attack the nest or try to reach the ferry, but eventually decided our best chance was to try and destroy the nest. Ugos once burned such a nest, but that was on a hot summer day. Here, it is cold and raining and the nest hangs over a river. While we wondered if flaming arrows would work, Ugos advised we wash the spider blood off our bodies, since they hunt by scent. (They are, however, stone blind.) Narayan gesticulated and the gore vanished from our clothes and skin. Since we weren’t eager to get all dirty again, we decided to try flaming arrows. Asha was soon climbing the bell tower with Ugo’s longbow and six arrows headed with oily rags. One of them hit its mark. As a flaming hole spread through the nest, several dark forms emerge from it. The web caught quickly. Over the hiss of the flames we heard the distant “plops” of the pustules falling into the river. We gathered the civilians into the middle of the temple as the wind howled and the nest sank into the ford. Eerie silence spread over the village.
Nothing happens for some time. A flash of Narayan’s light showed several spidermen squatting with their hands on the ground. True to Ugos’s words, they paid the light no heed. Narayan and Asha, in the belltower, decided to attack from a distance with magic fire and flaming arrows and injured two of the spider-creatures. As they writhed in pain, another creature approached. It was like a large albino version of the spinnermen, and seemed to be the source of a faint buzzing that, somehow, entered our minds without passing through our ears. It focused its sightless gaze on Asha, who looked increasingly disoriented. Vikram took aim at a spinnerman, but it stepped out of the way as he fired his eldritch blast. The door began to buckle as the invertebrates pressed against it, but Kinaa held it firm. Meanwhile Asha downed one of the three at the door with an arrow from above.
Meanwhile, we heard several others scratching at the windows. Kinaa struck down a second of the door group, but as he did so they crashed through and entered the temple. Amata breathed lightning toward the spinnermen menacing the windows, but missed. She stepped toward the wall and stabbed with her glaive through the shattered glass, wounding one of the creatures between its thorax and its abdomen. Ichor soaked the floor. Collaín stepped forward and threw a knife into a spinnerman perched in a window while Narayan rushed down the stairs. Asha continued showering flaming arrows onto them spider-people.
The white praetor crept closer and Vikram and Kinaa grew dizzy. Kinaa, however, stil landed a blow on it.. Meanwhile the four at the windows burst in. Haraldr, Amata and Collaín hit at them as they passed. Narayan, turning towards the door, coated the ground with ice. Two spinnermen and their praetor slipped and fell, cracking as they hit the ground. Collaín seized the opportunity and stabbed the downed white spider with his short sword. It shuddered and collapsed, lifeless. Even after its death, its victims still seemed a little dazed. With their leader killed, the spider-people moved to slink away. They did not get far. None left the temple.
The Squire and the Herald departed for Reyen. Our party, along with the Aleman family, struck off toward the ford. We heard a sound like the clash of arms to the southeast and felt the ground vibrate beneath us, but nothing more happened as we left the town. We rode across the ford, whose swift water was sullied with the remnants of the foul nest. Once across the river, we turned again towards the Arborway. The Aleman family left us, going south toward the bridge, where they had friends. We continued on our way, hoping the cloaked man hadn’t got too far, and that no more ill would befall us that long, rainy night.