Spoiler: Chapter 24: ArachNOphobia

The party decides to continue their search of the castle, going from top to bottom, central to lateral. Miaoyu and Tsarae search the balcony above the threshold, but find it empty except for some creaky, mostly-destroyed old furniture.

On the ground floor, Aelron and Seeker are marveling over the craftsmanship of the chamber's rear wall, which appears to be amazingly thin translucent marble; it allows the afternoon sun to permeate it, glowing with the shadows and shapes of topiaries out in the rear garden. As impressive as it is, it’s a definite security concern; while it would take a bit of effort to smash down or cut through, it might prove a failing at a critical moment, and the party makes a note not to put their backs up against it.

There are still the two wings to search, left and right off the main entry chamber. Miaoyu selects the left wing first and pushes the door open. It creaks horribly, unceasingly, the entire time Miaoyu gently presses against it, and everyone winces at the sound. Nothing else seems to notice the noise, but that does absolutely nothing for the party's paranoia. The door opens upon a small foyer containing the wreckage of a crystal chandelier that fell to the ground decades ago (to judge by the dust layered over it) another curving staircase with a sweeping bannister, and a single heavy, well-decorated doorway leading further into the wing on the first floor.

Seeker offers Miaoyu a bit of oil he has on him, and she carefully oils the hinges on the heavy door before attempting to open it. The door gives a single staccato pop of sound as the hinges unstick, and then glides open in utter silence.

Miaoyu smiles back at the party, puts on a curious face, and cups a hand behind her ear, as if to say, “Can you hear that?” Then, with a contented sigh, she faces forward again and continues scouting.

Behind the double-doors is a long hallway with three sets of double doors on its right wall, which ends in yet another closed single door. Miaoyu begins searching each room one by one while the party waits in the hall to cover her. The first set of double doors is unlocked, but hides nothing especially notable. The room behind it has some furniture (though all the cushions, pillows and cloth drapery are missing), some tattered remains of old clothing, and little else. Miaoyu roots around long enough to find a small, understated jewelry box and pocket it.

The next door is locked and Miaoyu takes a moment to pick it while Tsarae lounges next to her.

“You're never going to tease that thing open,” Tsarae whispers.

Gavin eyes Tsarae. “Think you can do better?” he asks.

Tsarae scoffs. “Of course not. What's the point?”

Miaoyu grumbles something about “No locks in the Underdark,” and “bloody distractions”.

Tsarae shrugs. “A good swift kick usually does just as well as all this nonsense,” she asserts, sweeping her hand to encompass Miaoyu's efforts with the lockpick.

With a sharp click! the lock pops open and Miaoyu stands up. “Ah,” she says with a triumphant smirk, “But now no one will ever know we were here.” She swings the door open with a flourish of her wrist and looks into the room—just as Tsarae breaks into uncontrollable giggling.

The room is completely empty.

Miaoyu's expression goes from gloating to raging in a heartbeat. "You have got to be kidding me!” she grates. “Who locks an empty room?!" She steps to the closest wall in the room and delivers it a good swift kick, accompanied by a stream of hiss-whispered Quennish profanity. After a few moments, however, Miaoyu regains her temper and considers the situation. Deciding that it actually is pretty funny, she closes the door and takes a moment to re-engage the lock.

The third door is unlocked but, like the first room, only has a few pieces of furniture left, and the windows are broken.

In each of the three rooms, there were entrances to tiny servant passages, so the party takes a moment to investigate them. The first one is pitch black, so Tsarae, being the only one able to see perfectly in the dark without aid, searches it while the rest of the party checks out the next one, which is well-lit.

The servants' passage runs beneath the sweeping rooms of the wing above it, cramped and narrow and barely lit. It appears that at one point it led back to a central location underneath the antechamber, but a collapse has blocked the way (and also the light, which is probably why the one passage Tsarae went down was pitch-black. The way is clear in the other direction, however, further into the wing, and so the party follows that.

The passage emerges through a cleverly concealed door into a broad, brilliantly-sunlit room that caps the end of the wing. One wall is almost entirely constructed of windows and looks out over the side and rear gardens of the manor. Aelron notes a spell layered across the panes of glass in the window that merges the panes together, strengthening their surfaces and providing support for their immense weight (that's some thick glass). Another sweeping staircase swirls around the inner surface of the room, providing yet another access to the second story. The room is empty of both portable valuables and notable enemies, and so the party returns through the servants' passage and returns to the interior hallway just in time for Tsarae to rejoin them.

"Nothing in there except for a couple of very dead people," Tsarae says.

"How did they die?" Gavin asks.

She shrugs, nonchalant. "Dead is dead. What does it matter?"

"It matters because I don’t want a couple of angry ghosts after us because they didn’t get proper funeral rites,” Gavin says crossly. Seeker’s ears twitch.

Tsarae’s face remains one of stony apathy. Gavin looks like he's about to launch into a tirade when Miaoyu speaks up hurriedly.

"Why don’t you two tend to the dead while we check out the second floor?" she suggests diplomatically.

Gavin clamps his jaw shut, nods, and departs with Seeker for the servant’s passage. It's dark down in the tunnel—Aelron's light spell having worn off by this point—so Gavin ignites a torch and, after some searching, finds the skeletal remains of a what looks like two humanoids that appear to have had their knees bashed in. Who did the bashing—intruders or especially cruel nobles—is unclear, but either way, they died slowly and in pain.

Seeker performs some simple funeral rites, and he and Gavin rejoin the rest of the party. The next floor is fairly boring, though Miaoyu finds a lovely sapphire tucked away in a pile of rotten wood that might once have been a chest of drawers and pockets it discreetly. That's more difficult than it sounds, since the sapphire is at least four inches in diameter.

With the left wing searched and declared pretty much secure, the party moves into the right wing. This wing appears as a mirror image of the first, a long small stairwell leading into top-floor and ground-floor hallways, three rooms to each floor, and a sun room at the far end. As soon as the party opens the door into the stairwell, however, they notice two things: faint squawking and a horrible stench.

They follow the both to the door leading into the sun room, take up position at the end of the hallway—fighters in front, mages in the middle, rogues in the back—and Gavin swings the door slowly open.

Once, this room must have been the equal of its mirror image on the far side of the house, but it's seen some hard living since. The floor, the banister rail, the window sill, and every piece of furniture remaining in the room is completely caked in a filth that appears to be one part feathers, one part bones and three parts excrement. Small nests, mostly made of the fabric-lined or cloth-crafted parts of the manor's furniture, dot the room at intervals, though they are no cleaner than anything else. The stench is absolutely rancid; the smell is an awful combination of litterbox, birdcage and decaying carcass, and the room is sealed, baking in the afternoon sun.

The room's occupants are, if anything, even worse: there are somewhere between a dozen and a score of them, creatures with torsos roughly the size of an eight- or nine-year-old human child. They have normal-sized (if hideously ugly) heads weaving and bobbing at the end of foot-long rubbery necks, overly-muscled chests, four-foot-long spindle arms that end in wicked hooked talons, and a coat of wispy, feather-light hair (hairy feathers?). Most of the creatures are preoccupied rooting through the filth that covers literally every horizontal surface, though several are fighting amongst themselves. All are shrieking profanities with the precision and apalling vocabulary of post-grad language professors, and all look up as Gavin swings the door open.

These creatures are male harpies, better known to the layperson as halflings.

Somewhere above, Gavin and Flynn can see another creature flitting around, likely a female: the actual harpy of the brood.

Gavin decides to take a diplomatic approach. He holds his spear out and says, “My friends and I are reclaiming this manor! The door is back this way. We'll give you until tonight to gather anything valuable to you and leave!”

One of the halflings hisses, then looks up. “Mother-wife!” Yeah, apparently harpies are like THAT. “A man is here! He wants to take our home!”

From above, the harpy lands on a pile of filth-encrusted debris, her movements ungainly and her face very ugly. Utterly revolting, you might say. It is as though her face couldn't decide between nose/lips and beak, and settled for the worst aesthetic combination of the two it could come up with.

"This is our manor now!" Gavin tries again. "Feel free to leave by any means necessary."

The harpy looks Gavin up and down, her face a rictus of distaste. She can't see much of the rest of the party, so she settles for telling off Gavin. She utters a single sentence describing what she and her brood are going to do to Gavin once they've subdued him. It is easily the most profane sentence the party has had the displeasure of hearing since it came together, a detailed litany of derogatory terminology and disgusting metaphor, which, combined with the foul stench, is nearly enough to leave the party retching.

Fortunately, Gavin makes his fort save.

"I was raised by imprisoned sailors, you witch!” he bellows in reply. “Now, I’m going to count to three, and if you aren’t gone by three, we're going to start killing."

The harpy isn't having any of this counting nonsense. “Cleanse them!” she shrieks, and her brood scurries to the attack.

The halflings scamper into the hallway, squeezing past Gavin and Flynn to surround the party entirely. They claw at everyone, but only manage to connect with Flynn and Tsarae in the opening flurry of blows. Flynn and Gavin work together to take down the halfling that attacked Flynn. Aelron pulls a cryo-spell-grenade off his belt and rolls it across the hallway to rest between a couple of harpies. Unfortunately they seem smart enough to understand what it is and avoid it, and it detonates mostly harmlessly, while one of the harpies sinks a claw into Aelron's shoulder in retaliation.

At the back of the party, Tsarae strikes down a halfling as it swings for Miaoyu, then the one that attempts to take its place. Unfortunately, it leaves her flank open, and a third harpy screeches triumphantly as it sinks a claw into Tsarae's forearm. As the rest of the swarming halflings close on Tsarae, she grabs the halfling's delicate forearm with her other hand, snaps it in half with a sharp jerk (eliciting a squawk of pain), and kills the halfling with his own claw, before picking up her weapons again and growling at the once-again-wary halflings.

Seeing two of his companions taking damage, Seeker hurriedly casts a healing spell on Aelron and shouts to Tsarae, “You’re better than this! Are you going to let these things overwhelm you?”

Seeker has a trait named Inspiration that lets him heal his companions from a distance by ‘inspiring’ them to do better. And while Tsarae wasn't exactly inspired for the battle itself, she was definitely inspired to teach Seeker a lesson later.

Aelron throws another grenade and reduces two of the halflings to a foul-smelling crisp (“Oh, wonderful!” Tsarae shouts, “Now it smells like burning birds**t!”) and Gavin and Flynn take down yet another halfling with the power of teamwork (but mostly with repeated stabbings). Suddenly there is only one halfling left in the hallway, plus three still stuck in the sun room with the harpy herself.

Miaoyu, feeling determined to get a kill in for herself (she's once again been missing with every roll), decides to try something tricky. All the remaining enemies are up by Flynn and Gavin, and Seeker and Aelron are in her way, so she needs to get some altitude. She puts a foot on the base of a statue along the side of the hallway, levers off that to clamber onto Aelron (who has just lowered a shoulder enough to become a convenient next step up), and, with just the perfect moment of balance, uses Aelron as a firing platform to shoot the remaining halfling in the hallway while standing head-and-shoulders above the rest of the party—nothing like a perfect roll on an acrobatics check.

Aelron—who doesn't seem to have actually noticed Miaoyu landing on him and then jumping off again—digs out another grenade and tosses it into the nest. The halflings cheer at the sight of something shiny and dive after it... just in time to hold it up at about eye level before it explodes. None of them survive, and the stench gets—no one thought this was possible—even worse.

Gavin bursts into the nest and catches sight of the harpy. “Now it’s your turn!”

The harpy seems less than enthused with that idea and takes exceedingly clumsy wing, flapping in a most ungainly manner for the door at the top of the stairs. Taking an educated guess at the harpy's planned exit point, the party turns around and begins rushing toward the central chamber, but the harpy is deceptively fast waddling along the ground. She drops to the ground in the inner stairwell and scampers into the central chamber, then scoots toward the main door, well ahead of the party.

“Oh, no you don't,” Miaoyu growls. She puts on a burst of speed, reaches the base of the stairwell in record time, and—in her second successful to-hit roll of the session—puts an arrow through the harpy's neck, dropping her in a single well-placed shot.

Seeker stops to cast Diagnose on Flynn, Aelron, and Tsarae: they were the only ones hit by the halflings, and he worries that they’ve gotten bad infections from it. It's a good thing he did, as apparently halflings can transmit STDs by touch. Fortunately, only Flynn was affected, and he’s cured with a simple Restoration spell; Aelron managed to make his fort save, and Tsarae has an innate resistance to disease. Now our heroes only have to worry about the god-awful stench attacking their nostrils.

"As shi**y as this is," Flynn says philosophically, "it beats the crap out of the plague."

Once everyone has been given a clean bill of health, Tsarae steps forward and gives Seeker a solid slap for his words during the battle.

"Okay, I deserved that," Seeker mumbles, rubbing gingerly at his stinging muzzle.

"Yes,” Tsarae growls. “‘Do better’? I killed three. How many did you kill?"


"Exactly. Maybe you’re the one who needs to do better."

"I’m a pacifist!" Seeker’s ears flick self-consciously. "Well… technically."

“‘Technically’,” Flynn repeats. “You use that word so much I think you’re starting to abuse language as a whole. Now let us contemplate whether language is alive and capable of being abused. In silence.”

That glorious silence lasts about three seconds. Tsarae nudges Miaoyu. “I saw something shiny in there,” she whispers.

"So go get it."

Another moment of silence as the two of them glance at the filth-caked room.

Tsarae looks back at Miaoyu. "…You first."

"I’ll get it," Gavin says resignedly. "Just point where."

And so Gavin bravely plunges into the heart of the harpy nest, all for the sake of a shiny. The journey isn’t pleasant: there is literally crap everywhere and Gavin gags as he trudges through it. Finally, he reaches the shiny that Tsarae indicated and pulls out a broken, solid silver sword with lapis lazuli embedded in the hilt. He brings it back to Aelron, who looks it over, but can’t find any enchantment on it; and Gavin can tell from the balance (or lack thereof) that this sword was intended as a purely ceremonial piece.

Meanwhile, Flynn surveys the nest for any other interesting items and comes across a folio-style journal with a lock and Griffon’s Peak’s seal. Miaoyu takes a look at the lock and confirms that it would be easy to pick. Both she and Aelron know, however, that the biggest concern would be opening it without damaging its contents; if this book is in fact from an inhabitant who died with Old Drougant, then it's over two hundred years old, and books that old just don't seem to hold together very well.

"Ysilarites could open it and preserve it for us," Seeker says. "And they can do it better and longer than I could. I’ll hold onto it until we get to a city."

The party gets back to exploring the right wing. Aelron uses prestidigitation to move the crap in the nest into a corner and Gavin picks up anything of value left behind, mostly just very old, absolutely filthy silver and gold pieces.

There’s only one thing of interest remaining in the right wing: a solid marble statue of a griffin on the second floor. Miaoyu looks it up and down, turns to glance at Seeker: "The Gryphon’s Peak guys were pretty full of it, huh?" At the mention of Gryphon’s Peak, the statue’s eyes begin to glow. Miaoyu yelps and hurriedly hides behind the nearest doorway. After a moment, she notices she hasn’t heard Seeker dying horribly and peeks around the corner.

"I think you said a code word," Seeker says as he inspects the statue. "It must be a golem of some kind. I’d be willing to bet that more information about it is in here." He holds up the folio.

"If we can find out how to activate it, it would make a good guard for this place," Flynn points out.

Once the search of the right wing had been finished and everyone regroups, they head back into the basement. The party quickly checks the door that they left unopened earlier that day and find only a room that had once been meant as food storage, and is now a vast and well-stocked dust repository. Then the party marches through the door that the demigobs came through. It leads to a staircase that empties out into yet another room, this one much smaller than the kitchens above. Furniture and other detritus are stacked up in what looks like a nest or bed-pile, presumably used by the demi-gobs, and in the middle of the pile is a large, bronze disc, about two inches thick and six feet in diameter. Seeker takes a closer look and finds that the bronze is pliable and soft to the touch; think memory foam. He casts Identify on it and learns that the disc is a magical hospital bed: those who rest on it recover two additional hit points per rest. Unfortunately they also sleep the enchanted sleep of the dead, and are thus very difficult to rouse (and take a penalty to camp security). Also, the disc weighs a bloody ton—one-hundred fifty stone in game terms, bearing in mind that an average human with ten strength in this system has a carrying capacity of five stone.

The party clears the gobs' room of debris and barricades the door. They set up double shifts on watch and enjoy the healing effects of the bronze disc.

The next day, they find one of the demigob’s bodies to be gone. Well, that isn’t foreboding. The party grabs the harpy bodies and places them around the manor grounds, hoping their ungodly stench will help repel predators and scavengers. Once that's done, Gavin motions—and is vigorously seconded by Aelron and Flynn—to clear out the spider grove they passed on the way in.

“Those spiders killed Git-Yankee,” Flynn points out. “They need to pay for that.”

The grove itself is a short walk from their chosen manor, only an hour or so away. No one actually wants to go INTO the grove to fight the spiders, so they decided to try drawing the enemy out with a bit of heavy artillery. Tsarae and Gavin form up between the rest of the party and the grove to make an impromptu front line; Seeker and Aelron stand behind them, ready with spells, while Flynn and Miaoyu ready bows in the back. Aelron pulls out a grenade and side-arms it into the grotto. The grove's interior lights up briefly golden, and weird warbling chitter-howls of pain echo on the afternoon air. A moment later the trees begin to shake as the grove's denizens come out to meet this brazen attack.

Spider-wolves come pouring out of the grove, skittering up and around the trees, crawling out of the main stairwell, and raising a great hue and cry. Each one has a slightly different physical composition, but most have the thorax and legs of a spider, the head, eyes, snout, ears and nose of a wolf, and arachnid mandibles instead of a lower jaw. Those mandibles appear to be dripping something green and sticky.

Miaoyu makes that sound in the back of her throat again and shoots one that is advancing on her. A bit to her own surprise, not only does the shot hit, it stops the spider's momentum dead; the creature flips onto its back and curls up, dead. Flynn takes down another that appears to have wind-sprinted toward the party from the treeline.

Once a few of the creatures reach Gavin and Tsarae, the battle becomes a slaughter; these wolf-spiders are level zero, which means the three fighter-classed people can kill multiples in a round. Gavin stabs two and then hurls his spear at a third; Tsarae sprints off to intercept one headed toward Miaoyu, then hurls a dagger back into a second to keep Aelron clear; Miaoyu looses another arrow and brings down another spider wolf and Aelron whirls his staff at the last one, silencing it with a hail of arcane bolts. Once the party is sure there aren’t any more eight legged freaks still skittering about, Tsarae, Aelron, and Gavin go into the grove for a closer look, while Flynn, Miaoyu, and Seeker keep watch outside.

With Aelron's staff actually in the interior of the grove proper, it's a bit easier to see. There are several egg clusters scattered around on the ground in the open central area of the grove, and several web-wrapped unknowns suspended in the trees around the grove perimeter large enough to be humanoids. “If you’re alive,” Gavin shouts to the wrapped probably-bodies, “struggle mightily. Or feebly.”

He scans the webbed bodies, but doesn’t see any movement and after a moment, he ventures further in. Aelron begins dropping his grenades into the egg clusters, flash-frying their contents.

At the back of the grove, set upon what used to be a stone bench, Gavin finds an altar. On investigation, he realizes it’s dedicated to the Princess of Spiders, who also happens to be the Unseelie counterpart to the Ocean Witch. It suggests that either those spider wolves were much more intelligent than they appeared, or an attercop was living among them; Miaoyu finds neither prospect thrilling.

There are a few odds and ends on the altar, most of them black and spider-shaped or spider-stylized, but the only thing of real interest is a bronze-capped scroll. Feeling compelled to taunt the Princess, but also unable to desecrate the altar under the strange compulsions of fey ‘politeness’, Gavin snatches the scroll.

"Aelron," he says, seeing that the mage has finished his work on the eggs, "would you be willing to do a quick sketch for me?"

"Of course. What do you need?" Aelron begins rooting around in his bag for a bit of parchment and some charcoal.

"How about a picture of a spider on a sinking ship?"

Aelron snickers. From the entrance of the grove Miaoyu shouts, “Whatever you’re doing, it better not piss off the Princess of Spiders. If I wake up with any arachnids on my face, I’ll make you suffer.”

"Relax," Gavin says. "It’s really just a friendly hello, that’s all.” He lowers his voice and murmurs to Aelron, “For a given value of friendly."

Aelron just shakes his head with a small smile, then hands Gavin the rough sketch; it shows a ship, cracked in half amidships and sinking fast, with spiders or spiderfolk waving for help from aboard the prow and stern. Gavin adds a caption to the bottom: The tides come further inland every year. Then he sets the drawing on the altar in place of the bronze scrollcase and turns to leave.

"Alright, let’s burn this place down," Miaoyu says, shuddering.

Everyone exits the grotto and Aelron begins prepping small ignition flames around the grove, readying to ignite it in multiple points and burn all the webbing to ash. He lays in small spells that will keep the source flames going for hours, returns to the party and raises a hand, ready to cast the ignition spell. With one last casual glance into the grove, he takes in the walls of spider webbing, the once-beautiful trees, the half-wrecked statuary, and the—

Walls of spider webbing?

"Wait a second,” he says, lowering his arm and looking to Seeker. “What phase is the moon in?"

Everyone looks at Aelron curiously for a long moment before Miaoyu ventures,"Tonight’s the last night of the full moon. Why?"

Then, all at once, everyone gets it.

"Elven mail!" Seeker exclaims, his tail wagging a bit. "I can’t believe we didn’t think of this before.” He leans into the grotto to get a better look at the amount of webbing. "With only one night left, I probably can’t harvest all of this, but I’m sure I can get at least a couple of suits’ worth, maybe more if I work fast."

"We should head back, then," Flynn says. "If we have to harvest the silk by moonlight, I’d rather we all rest up."

The party murmurs its agreement and heads back to the manor. Miaoyu glances at one of the spider wolf corpses. “I’m almost sure the one I saw eating the mule was bigger than these,” she says, mostly to herself.

Back at the manor, Gavin, Seeker, and Aelron begin discussing how to further secure the place, while Flynn and Miaoyu do a sweep to make sure nothing has wandered in during their absence. Miaoyu gets a perfect awareness roll and a nice boost to her paranoia when she slowly becomes aware that big, spider-like things are lurking just out of her direct line of vision.

"Something’s out there," she says with a shudder. "And I don’t think I’m imagining it."

"We haven’t checked the garden or the surrounding grounds, have we?" Seeker asks. "Let’s go check and see if there’s anything out there."

There’s little of interest in the open areas of the garden. The garden itself is as overgrown as one might expect and there’s a nice marble-floored gazebo (insert inane jokes, Sound of Music references, and bad puns here), but no sign of arachnids. Giving up, the party goes back inside.

"Maybe we should take a look at this," Gavin says, holding up the scroll he swiped. Miaoyu looks it over for traps and finds it clean, but Aelron determines it has some sort of Diamond spell on it. Worried that the spell might be reporting on their movements or listening to the things they say, he opens the scroll to investigate further. The scroll has a single question written across it in a beautiful and elaborate script: What is the spell you seek?

Definitely not a spy scroll.

"I have an idea!" Seeker says eagerly. "The wolfman curse!"

Miaoyu and Flynn share a glance of resigned trepidation. Gavin shoots a questioning look at Aelron, who replies with a tiny shake of his head. Tsarae facepalms.

Aelron is first to find his voice. “You’re not the only one who cares about the curse, Seeker,” Aelron says, “but first off, if the spell that can cure the wolf-man curse even exists, do we know its name? Can we describe it adequately for the scroll to find?”

“You misunderstand,” Seeker says. “I don't want to find the cure, I want to find the person who cast the curse in the first place. Find him, and the we can end the curse forever.”

Aelron blinks. “That seems even more reckless. What if the scroll points us at a deity, or even a demi-deity? What if the scroll's magic burns itself out trying to divide by zero or something and it blows up in our hands? Somewhat more realistically, what if this scroll has a limited number of uses? This is a valuable tool that we can't avoid to waste chasing what is, at this moment, a pipe dream. We may need it later for something related to our current mission.”

Seeker’s ears flick in disappointment, but he nods. “I understand. At least let me Identify it?” Aelron hands the scroll to him. One spell later, the party learns that the spell on the scroll will reveal the location and name of a mage who knows the spell requested. The party agrees to wait on using it, and returns downstairs to rest.

On first watch, Gavin turns to Aelron. “You mentioned that Seeker wasn't the only one who cares about the curse. The way you said that made it sound like you care. Why is that, though? You're a human, aren't you?”

Aelron smiles at him. “Elf, actually. Elven mother, wolfman father.”

Gavin blinks at him. “You... are a male, right?”

Aelron raises an amused eyebrow. “Yes.”

“And yet you're not a wolfman?”

“Mom got away from my father before the pregnancy was too far along, and hid out in the City of Brass. We're still not sure what happened exactly, but...” he shrugs. “The current theory is that the wolfman curse got... overwritten by prolonged exposure to elemental fire magic. We're still not certain, though. I have a special spell my mom helped me with to keep the ears rounded; if I let them grow out I attract way too much attention.”

Gavin blinks. “Huh.”

Aelron smiles ruefully. “I do care about the curse. I want to know if it is removable, and if I still have some latent form of it that will pass on to any children I might have. It seems unlikely I'm going to have children at all but... it's always good to know exactly how careful one needs to be.”

Gavin grimaces. “That I understand.”

The rest of their watch passes in companionable silence.

Come evening and moonrise, the party wakens again and sets out. It's full-blown dark by the time they reach the grove, though the full moon shining down does provide enough illumination to make the hike a fairly simple affair.

“I’m going to keep watch outside,” Miaoyu mumbles, and Flynn joins her. They set up torches well away from the grove to extend their lines of sight out into the darkness, and Aelron casts Vision of Color on them before entering the grove. Everyone else enters the grove and Seeker begins carefully collecting the silk. Aelron wraps up the head of his staff to prevent the glow from interfering, and does his best to assist Seeker while Flynn, Miaoyu, Gavin and Tsarae keep watch.

Suddenly, the party hears a series of clicks and howls from all around the grove—spider wolves sounding off before an attack. Gavin lets lose a series of warning barks: If you try to attack us, you will lose packmates.

This warning seems to have no effect, however, as a large spider-wolf lumbers into sight on the far side of Miaoyu and Flynn's torches. It's nearly four times the size of the spider-wolves they fought before—it seems that those spider-wolves were actually spider-puppies, and now the pack is looking for revenge for their young. The spider-wolf apparently has a pretty good handle on how far humanoid senses normally extend in the darkness, but it fails to account for Vision of Color and is just on the edge of their extended vision. They both loose arrows to take it down, but before its legs finish twitching, several more spider-wolves rush out and scurry over or through the trees, entering the grotto. Seeker, Aelron, and Gavin are all bitten, and Gavin fails his fort save; he’ll lose 1HP per round until healed by magical means.

Knowing Seeker will have his hands full with healing very soon, Miaoyu takes a deep breath and shadow walks up to Gavin... right in the middle of a formation of angry spider-wolves. She quickly administers coagulants from the feldspar elementals, stopping Gavin's bleeding, and looks up to see how the other party members are doing. Flynn is taking shots at one of the spider-wolves from the grove entrance and Aelron is unleashing blasts of flame at the two creatures nearest him, but she can’t seem to locate Tsarae, who had been loitering near the altar before the ambush.

She doesn’t have the time to worry, though. Seeker and Aelron are both bitten again and this time they both get poisoned, and Aelron is no longer on his feet. Miaoyu rushes to administer more coagulants, while Gavin cuts down one spider wolf and takes up a guarding position. Seeker heals Aelron to get him back on his feet and Aelron takes his revenge by roasting one of the spider-wolves with an incendiary.

Across the field, Flynn has earned the attention of the spider-wolf he’s been shooting and it advances on him menacingly. He switches to a glaive and is readying to hack into it when Tsarae leaps out of the shadows and fully onto the creature's back swords-first, robbing it of its last hit point.

Gavin has become a one-man shield wall, defending and intercepting to protect Miaoyu, Seeker, and Aelron. Deciding that she’s no longer needed in the immediate area, Miaoyu makes a weak shot at the nearest spider-wolf and shadow walks to the back of the grove. Fortunately, this takes a lot of pressure off of Gavin, who now only has to worry about defending Seeker and Aelron. Unfortunately, three of the spider wolves remain, and all of them are clustered around him.

Tsarae’s sword finds its way into a nice, crunchy spider head next, bringing the remaining count to two spider-wolves. Gavin breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he slurs. “Sorry if I sound a bit hoarse. The poison made my face numb.”

The victory is short lived: one of the spiders lunges at Aelron and Gavin throws himself in the way to intercept. He’s bitten and poisoned for his trouble, and brought to 0 HP.

Despite this, the last two spider wolves decide they’ve had enough and begin retreating. Aelron, Flynn and Miaoyu take parting shots, but none connect in the darkness, and no one wants to pursue these things outside the grove. Flynn rushes over to Gavin and kneels beside him, moving his hands to place pressure on an open wound in Gavin's side. As soon as he makes contact, a silvery nimbus of light forms around his hands, transfers to Gavin, and diffuses. Seeker, confused, Diagnoses Gavin, and finds the poison cured. Flynn blinks. “Well, that's new.”

Once everyone has been seen to, Gavin begins double tapping the spider-wolf corpses, and Miaoyu musters up her courage to harvest a bit of poison from one of the spider-wolves' mandibles. (And true to form, her initial check is very poor, but her reroll is much more successful. Nothing like a bit of dissociation to get the job done.)

Seeker goes back to harvesting spider silk and Aelron takes a look at the spider wolf corpses to see if he can make anything useful out of them. And make something useful he does: he enchants one of the spider legs to grant spider climb to its bearer at half their normal move speed.

"You’d probably get the most use out of this," he says to Miaoyu. He holds up the leg and Miaoyu flinches a bit. He gives her an apologetic smile. "Once we get back to civilization, we’ll find something nice to wrap it in." Miaoyu digs in her bag and pulls out an old cloth and has Aelron wrap it up for her before she takes it.

"Thanks for rushing in to cure me, by the way," Gavin says to her. "I know you don’t like those things."

Miaoyu shudders. "Don’t mention it. Seriously, don’t. I don’t want to think about it."

"I think I’ve got all I can," Seeker calls. "Should be enough for two suits."

Miaoyu’s out of the grove in about half a second, and the party heads back to the manor for rest.