Spoiler: Chapter 28: ArachNOphobia: Reprise
Between Aelron and Seeker's adventures in crafting, Flynn's gambling winnings, Gavin's repartee with the Ocean Witch (now unofficially known as the Wicked Witch of the Wet) and Miaoyu and Nüwa's bedroom athleticism, the party has enough XP to be level four (except Nüwa, who is now a level 3 mage/rogue). This means new feats for Flynn, Gavin and Miaoyu, access to second-level spells for Seeker and Aelron, and more sweet, sweet blessed hit points all around. Also, since this is still the first play-test of this game system, the players have uncovered many places where the initially developed rules needed refinement. Tam logged all those planned changes, and implemented them in one fell swoop as we leveled up. We all just filled out brand-new character sheets, because let's face it, it was easier that way.
Several character traits that literally the entire party had selected (thinking here of Multi-talented, which let us have training in cross-class skills at level one) were removed, and their benefit simply granted to all characters as a baseline. A few new traits and feats were introduced, brainstormed by players and DM either during the campaign itself or during discussion of the campaign between sessions. Bonuses granted to skill rolls from ranks in a given skill were reduced, making it harder to meet and exceed ridiculous DCs, but most of the broad-category skills were given additional utility (trained characters can make an Acrobatics check to negate damage that would normally only be halved by a reflex save, or make a Swordsmanship check to take a five-foot-step and reposition after an attack). The Initiate skill and its accompanying magic saw yet another balance-related overhaul; placing ranks in Initiate now requires certain character background and actions (varying greatly based on the god in question, of course; Initiate of Turmlar requires being a landed knight, while Initiate of the Mother of Dragons requires spending fifty percent of one's income on projects of which the deity approves). Tam re-made the divine spell list as well; the benedictions and maledictions of priests now have various potent in-game effects, priests can now consecrate areas to call their diety's attention to specific places, and each god's spell list saw at least a minor retouching.
It took us an inordinately long time, between the character polishing, the selection of new feats and spells, the incessant punning and the very very dirty jokes, but eventually we finished our new character sheets and got down to adventuring.
The party leaves Foxflag heading north, crossing into Demonsbreath Pass. For the first time, they are truly in the foothills of the mountain range that spans the continent, and the going becomes tougher and rockier with each passing hour.
It's only a few hours outside of Foxflag that they reach the first fork in the path: one direction is obviously a side path, probably leading to a small hold or farmstead, while the other continues north into the pass. Gavin stops and peers down the small path, then turns to the rest of the group.
“Does anyone have any idea what's down there?” he asks.
The rest of the party gives him blank looks. Allison, riding up from behind, glances down the path and shrugs. “From the lack of spiderwebs, I'd say it's unlikely our destination will be down that path.”
Gavin frowns. “Probably true, but I don't want to leave possible encamped enemies in our backfield. How far is it from here to the Webs of Death?”
The party looks around at one another, then back at Gavin. Aelron speaks for all of them. “None of us has ever been to the Webs of Death. We could estimate it, but without a map....”
Miaoyu starts. “Wait a minute! Nüwa, you're a Sanseliean! Make us a map!”
Nüwa nods agreeably, dismounts, sits down at the fork in the road, closes her eyes, and holds a quill over a sheaf of paper. After a moment, the quill quivers between her fingers, leaps from her hand, and begins moving of its own accord, etching out a map. A few minutes later, the quill jumps off the page, hovers in the air a moment, then begins to descend, clearly no longer enchanted and about to smear ink all over the map. Nüwa's eyes snap open and her hand, held perfectly, icily still for all ten minutes it took to complete the map, darts forward to snatch the quill almost delicately from the air before it can touch the page. With the deftness of long practice, she cleans the quill, caps it, tucks it into her pack, stands up, map in hand. She smiles broadly as she presents it to Gavin. “Sanselie's compliments.”
The map is downright intricate, with a beautifully traceried scale in one corner and forest density at least suggested by distance between tiny trees. The Webs, in the map's upper left corner, actually aren’t that far off; Gavin and Flynn estimate roughly a day and a half's travel, given the mountainous terrain. There are a few villages marked on the map, each roughly equidistant from the webs, so the party heads to the closest of them to drop off the horses, Allison, and Keegan.
The village itself is small enough that it doesn't even have an inn. Given that Nüwa's pocket change is enough to buy the village outright, its inhabitants are more than willing to put up Allison and Keegan for a few nights in their own homes and stable the horses in private barns. Gavin decides to talk to the villagers, see if they know anything about the Webs of Death, but he doesn't want to just come right out and admit what the party is up to either, just in case this is a village full of spider-cultsists.
Gavin tells the villagers, in an appropriately long-suffering voice, of how newly-married city-girl Nüwa wants to have a grand adventure, and they have been hired as her escort. She is to be taken into the forest, shown around, allowed to hunt game, and brought back safely. At first, the villagers offer tips on where to look for which kinds of animal, but eventually Gavin takes a few of the hunters aside and tells them that Nüwa probably won't be satisfied with anything less than a ferocious magical beast. The hunters cringe and sigh. The forest to the north, they tell him, is rife with fey creatures. They avoid it, as they have no desire to tangle with such things, so they can't tell him much aside from that, but the message is clear: the area around the Webs of Death is dangerous for more reasons than simple spider infestation.
The party leaves the village on foot, trekking through the hilly forest. Aelron, who has picked up the trait Elven Grace to replace Multitalented, and Tsarae, who's had Elven Grace all along, actually move more easily through this dense growth and rocky terrain than through normal, open plains. It's as though the trees part to grant them access, the rocks form perfect staircases beneath them, and even the wind lends its strength to their passage. The rest of the party, by contrast, is slogging through the woodlands as befits a bunch of city-folk: slow and surly, scratched and thwacked by branches at every turn, tripping over loose rocks that held Tsarae's and Aelron's weight perfectly not a moment before, and just generally not having fun. Eventually they send Tsarae and Aelron ahead to scout, because at least that way the two of them won't be waiting impatiently at the top of the next daunting rock wall, having climbed it like it was a freaking horizontal surface, grinning down as they watch the rest of the party struggle in their wake.
As they venture deeper into the forest, however, Aelron and Tsarae return, subdued and a bit shaken. A strange and ominous feeling starts at the base of everyone's spine, like they're all being watched. Aelron and Seeker have both encountered this phenomenon before: they are approaching a convergence of ley lines, a geographic point which is also a magical nexus, a location fraught with power. Miaoyu and Aelron go on at some length about the legends that surround Demonsbreath Pass: that not far from where they stand is the site of the first battle in the world, a territorial conflict between dwarves and boarfolk. That battle, and the wars fought there since, birthed and nurtured Olanorn, dwarven god of battle. This is also, according to legend, where the First Faerie War began.
Everyone gets a little quieter and stops complaining so much about nature. A battlefield that birthed a god is not a good place to be attracting attention.
The party decides to time their arrival at the Webs for mid-morning the next day. They find a place to camp in the unnerving woods, double up the watches and prepare for what they hope will be a quiet night. Gavin asks Miaoyu and Aelron for a bit of deific back-up: they both have new, very helpful divine spells that will hopefully provide Gavin with a much-needed edge. Aelron casts Mana Aurora, which grants its recipient the once-per-day use of a single spell. Gavin will be able to cast Detect Illusion once a day for the next three sessions as a spell-like ability. Miaoyu gives him Seek, which grants the target one reroll per session while in pursuit of a specific task or goal.
Flynn wonders aloud when the last time was that a priest of the Ocean Witch accepted benedictions from followers of Gilgadar and the Mother of Dragons.
That night, while Gavin and Tsarae are on watch (and carefully ignoring one another), they see an orange glow moving through the forest to their west, heading south. They wake Nüwa and Miaoyu (and, pointedly, not Meng).
"We’ll check it out," Miaoyu says, stretching and checking her weapons while Nüwa laces her boots. As Miaoyu straightens, she notices Gavin staring at her. "What?"
"You’ve turned kind of… shadowy," Gavin says. And she has: her skin, normally a shade of amber, has turned dark and dusky; it’s hard to make out her outline against the night sky. Miaoyu’s gained a new trait, Color Shifting, that gives her advantage on stealth checks.
Miaoyu doesn't seem to realize what he's talking about and gives Gavin an indulgent smile. “If you’re trying to scold me for my profession…”
Gavin sighs, annoyed, and grabs his shield, holding it up for Miaoyu to look into. She squints, but can’t make out anything other than vague shadows. “Needs polish,” she says quietly after a while.
Gavin stares, flips the shield around to face himself. He can clearly see his own reflection. “I’ve been polishing it all night!”
Miaoyu raises a brow. “Maybe you need a better brand of polish. Nüwa might lend you some cash to buy it with. Or maybe talk to Aelron, I hear he's good at polishing hard things to a sparkly sheen.” Miaoyu smirks and winks at Gavin, vanishing into the night before he can recover his thoroughly-lost composure. Nüwa follows close behind, stifling a snicker. Gavin fumes and Tsarae continues to keep watch, totally not smirking at Gavin’s frustration.
Nüwa and Miaoyu approach the source of the glow (remember the glow? That thing that Miaoyu and Nüwa were woken up to investigate?) from different angles. What they find is a tall, elf-like creature, clearly some sort of fey being, six feet tall and radiating light. He is escorted by several red-skinned hobgoblins, and at his heels is a stooped, cadaverous servant, probably a kobold or gnome.
Nüwa, close enough to get a good look as the being passes by, guesses that this would be a gemstone faerie, a Sith, a being with which Aelron would dearly love to become acquainted for a variety of reasons, but her train of thought is cut off when the fey lord turns and looks right at her.
Nüwa freezes, then carefully slinks back, trying to make herself small and unthreatening. Her efforts are successful: the fey lord turns away dismissively without alerting the rest of his entourage (who, thankfully, don't seem to have noticed), and continues on his way.
Nüwa and Miaoyu regroup and return to camp to report, and they and Gavin conclude that the being isn't likely a threat to the camp. Nüwa goes back to bed with Meng none the wiser.
Until breakfast, that is. Miaoyu and Nüwa sit close together, snickering together about how they totally didn’t do any late-night recon.
"Don’t worry, Meng," Gavin says. "I would never let them go off and do something fun—I mean dangerous. They definitely wouldn’t be sent off to get a look at some glowing fey lord. Nope."
Either Gavin is an awful liar, or he's enjoying this.
Meng seethes. He can't do his job if his charge won't even stay asleep in one place properly. Poor guy. Fortunately, he has good emotional control and doesn’t start decapitating people, though he looks ready to take a swing at Miaoyu.
The Webs of Death are only about two hours' travel away. The party does a last check of all equipment, breaks camp and marches. About an hour and a half out the majority of the party stops; Miaoyu and Tsarae venture ahead quietly to do a little reconnaissance.
About twenty-five minutes later, Miaoyu pushes aside a branch in her path and nearly faints. Directly ahead of her, a small stream is flowing past in a relatively wide bed. The bed itself is roughly ten feet below her level, and maybe twenty yards wide. About fifty yards upstream, the bed curves into the shade of a rocky arch, possibly the remnant of a hillside that the stream eroded its way under in the distant past. On the far side of the stream bed, a huge rocky hill rises to meet the top of the arch.
The entire area between arch, streambed and hill is a forest of spider webbing, great crisscrossed cables of the stuff strung between anchor points, supporting latticeworks of fine strands that glint in the late-morning sun. The hill and the stone arch are wrapped in a faint gauze of webs as well. Nothing can move on or near that hill without alerting every arachnid inside it. Miaoyu takes a deep breath, fights down panic, and begins taking notes.
There are several ominous-looking cocoons suspended in the webs. Most appear roughly human-sized, though one looks large enough to contain a giant and two others are only barely smaller. Miaoyu notes their locations, diagrams the riverbed and hillside, and is putting away her charcoal pencil and notepad when she finally spots a cave entrance hidden amidst the strands of silk. The opening is at least fifteen feet off the floor of the riverbed, a human-sized (if only just) gap in the rock. She draws that in too, then signals Tsarae to withdraw.
Upon returning to the rest of the party, Miaoyu pulls out her diagram. “Found it,” she says grimly, glaring at Gavin. “It just had to be a stronghold of the Princess of Spiders, didn't it?”
Gavin sighs. “I already owe you a favor,” he says, “And for whatever it's worth, I wish the Ocean Witch had chosen a different task too, but I'm afraid that may be part of why she did it.”
Miaoyu snorts. “Oh, I know. Gilgadar is a chatty drunk.” Gavin blinks, nonplussed for a moment. Miaoyu turns to Aelron, pointing at the cocoons. “I think these might be the zombie-marionette things we heard about.”
Aelron nods thoughtfully. “That seems likely. You could use the cocoon to hold a contingent spell that will release its recipient and animate it only when an opponent is detected, which means the corpse is exposed to less wear and tear before being sent into combat.” He grimaces. “Clever bastards.”
“Do we want to try getting rid of them before we go in for an attack?” Miaoyu asks.
"Definitely," Gavin says. He glances at Aelron. "That in your wheelhouse?”
Aelron smiles, showing far more teeth than is usual. "Probably. If Dispel Magic doesn't work, copious amounts of fire usually does the trick."
"Let's see if we can get close enough to try something a bit more subtle first," Miaoyu suggests. "The rest of you, just hang back by the edge of the stream bed and rescue us if it looks like we're gonna be turned into lunch."
The party moves to the edge of the stream bed where Miaoyu first sighted the Webs. Most of the party remains above in the edge of the trees while Aelron and Miaoyu try to approach quietly.
“Follow me,” Miaoyu whispers to Aelron as the two of them drop into the streambed. “Step where I step and stay behind me.”
Aelron nods and quietly activates Spellsight. If there's any magic in the webs, hopefully he'll spot it before it can do anything horrible to Miaoyu.
Their first target, the largest of the cocoons, is right near the outer edge of the webs, within relatively easy reach. If they can just get to within thirty feet of it, Aelron can inspect it for magic and determine if it is, in fact, a spidersilk-wrapped zombie. Then, hopefully, he can dispel it, and they can try for a different target.
They manage to cross the small tendril of flowing water at the center of the stream bed without issue and advance toward the edge of the webs, but the moment they get close enough for Aelron to actually check out the largest cocoon it all goes to Hell. The cocoon is practically dripping necromantic magic, and Aelron misses a step as he stares at it. The clatter of stones on the streambed draws attention, and suddenly Miaoyu is squeak-choking again.
Spiders. Lots of spiders. A whole host of them, each roughly human-sized. They lurch into motion from innumerable hiding spots throughout the web, crawling quickly toward Aelron and Miaoyu and the source of the noise. They glare menacingly down at the intruders, chittering and clacking their mandibles menacingly. It's not an outright attack, it's a threat display, a warning: leave if you value your innards.
Gavin sees Miaoyu panicking and Aelron in vastly over his head and decides that now is not the time for sneaking. He charges. He takes the drop down to the streambed in a single bound, shoulder-rolls to his feet and sprints across the intervening ground to the edge of the webs, where the foremost of the spiders is so shocked to see him that it doesn't even attempt to dodge. He sticks his spear into its abdomen, but it's tougher than it looks: the spider hisses angrily and remains stubbornly alive.
Seeker rushes forward to stand between Miaoyu and Aelron and the small cluster of spiders nearest them. This might sound foolish, but Seeker actually has higher AC than either Miaoyu or Aelron, and more hit points to boot, and his job is to keep the rest of the party alive. Nüwa and Meng follow a bit more sedately, and Nüwa begins hurling daggers at the spiders nearest the edge of the webs.
Aelron recovers from his shock and, as Gavin goes sprinting past, begins casting Dispel Magic. He doesn't have the spell prepared, so he's casting it out of his reserve hit points, and he's casting it as a full-round action so he can apply metamagic to it, so it's going to take time to weave the spell properly.
Miaoyu takes a shot at a nearby spider and gets a solid hit; the spider, an arrow protruding from one of its eyes, rises up on its rear legs and waves its front limbs and mandibles at her threateningly. Before it can lower itself to all eights and charge, an eldritch bolt streaks out of the trees, over Aelron and Miaoyu, burying itself in the joint between the creature's abdomen and thorax. Carried over backward by the immense momentum of the bolt, the spider topples onto its back, twitches and squeaks a few times, then stops moving. Tsarae hurries towards Aelron, Seeker, and Miaoyu, boosting her AC on the way with Turtle Style, cursing Aelron's careless feet and Miaoyu's stupid bravery.
And then Tam reveals the true horror of this encounter. One of the spiders... excretes a thick stream of webbing in Gavin's direction, and it sticks to his arm. That spider wraps its end of the thread around two of its forelegs and yanks. Gavin rolls a fort save and fails. The spider tugs him forward, into the shade of the massive stone arch and, more importantly, into the forest of webbing. Then a second spider does the same thing, tugging him further away from the party. And then a third spider just hurls a glob of sticky webbing at his feet, rooting him to the ground. As he’s struggling to pull free of the webbing, Gavin catches a glimpse of movement: more spiders are moving further back under the archway, heading in his direction. “Another wave is coming!” he shouts.
Nüwa and Seeker are both dragged, shrieking and cursing, closer to the webs. Nüwa manages to stay a safe distance away, but Seeker is pulled into the webs themselves, mere feet from the enormous necromantic cocoon.
Nüwa's daggers fly wildly, missing pretty much everything but webbing; it's hard to throw knives accurately while you're sobbing with terror. Fortunately, Meng stays resolutely close to her, holding his dao ready for any dangers that come within range.
Aelron finishes his dispel and hurls it at the necromantic cocoon. His magic contacts the webbing and begins unraveling it... but apparently the spider cultists were ready for that move. The entire party looks on in slack-jawed horror as the cocoon bursts like an overripe fruit, and from within pours a wave of thousands of tiny spiders, each containing a small charge of necromantic magic. The miniscule creatures swarm out in all directions, sprinting away from the cocoon, but the magic with which they have been imbued begins killing them quickly. Unfortunately, both Gavin and Seeker are far enough into the webs that the tide of spiders washes toward them. Seeker makes a Relfex save and leaps backward just far enough, but Gavin is anchored to the ground and cannot escape. The little creatures scurry up his legs, leap to his arms and chest, and bite and scratch until they die. All told, having made his fortitude save to reduce damage, he takes 4 points, but it's a rather nasty shock.
Fortunately, Gavin doesn't really care about nasty shocks. “A tide of spiders cannot stand against the Knight of Tides!” he shouts. And then the Werebear gets a fun idea and turns to the DM.
“Do corpses count as zero level creatures?” he asks. Tam nods, willing to allow it.
If Gavin can't do something about the cocoons scattered through this enormous web like mines, he will get dragged through each of them by these annoying spiders (which the party has taken to calling Yankees) until he dies from the sheer frustration (or possibly becomes a spiderling snack). Fortunately for Gavin, he gets three attacks per round against level zero creatures, and the corpses inside each cocoon off which the spiderlings are apparently feeding are zero level.
Gavin hurls spears at the nearest three cocoons. Each explodes into a wave of spiderlings, but he's far enough from all of them that the spiderlings die before they can reach him.
Meanwhile, everyone else has retreated to the edge of the webs, out of yanking-range. Seeker is out in front, daring the spiders to try that on him; Miaoyu and Tsarae hold the right flank, keeping a wary eye on the far side of the streambed as they hurl projectiles into the Yankees attacking Gavin; and Meng and Nüwa have the left, staying just to the right of the stream so they have half the streambed to spot anything approaching from their side. Aelron and Flynn stand in the center, free to reckless-attack and hurl damage at anything that moves. Miaoyu, Flynn, and Tsarae all assault a single Yankee with arrows and put it down.
One of the spiders retreats into the cave, and four others flee into the forest. While they may have suffered morale failure, Aelron and Miaoyu know a little bit of lore regarding spiders that suggests otherwise: the bigger a spider’s web, the smarter the spider. The party begins to fear that they are calling for reinforcements, but even if Gavin weren't mired in a deadly spiderweb trap, they couldn't actually stop that many spiders from fleeing all at once.
Aelron has had enough of these spiders, their pulling, their immobilizing, and their necromantic shenanigans. He channels for a moment, infusing his spell with as much explosive power as he can manage, and unleashes his first-ever second level spell. A hungry ball of licking flames bursts to life deep within the web and expands to a whopping twenty-foot radius, popping four cocoons like kernels in a roasting pan, and catching four Yankees in its blast. Two of the Yankees, caught flat-footed, scream in spidery agony as they burn. The other two duck behind anchoring strands of webbing and live, though the tiny hairs all over their bodies appear to have been singed off, and they are wreathed with smoke. Miaoyu targets one of those and lands a solid hit, but the creature merely turns and hisses at her. Tsarae fires at it as well, and her arrow pierces entirely through the creature's head (critical hit, almost max damage). The Yankee dies. Tam curses Tsarae's luck against his own encounters, and the party curses her kill-stealing.
Turns out the spiders WERE going for reinforcements: Gavin and Miaoyu spot at least six bigger spiders approaching. Imagine a spider whose thorax and abdomen are roughly the size of a horse's torso, slung between legs with enough span to hold the creature comfortably above a ten-foot-wide gap. Miaoyu is squeaking again. Three are approaching from the forest to flank the main party while the others are coming out of the cave and over the arch, about to converge on Gavin.
Gavin takes one look at the developing tactical situation and decides that he needs to be back with the rest of the party about two rounds ago. He hurries to the stream and splashes into it, wrapping his cloak around himself and turning into a seal. The stream is shallow and narrow, but his swim speed is far greater than his land speed, especially in these godforsaken spiderwebs.
Miaoyu is having a significantly less focused reaction. “Spiders!” she chokes out. She alone of the main group has spotted the incoming threat, but she's not having much success communicating about it.
"We know, Miaoyu," says Aelron, quite exasperated and unsure what’s suddenly gotten into his companion.
"Bigger ones," she sobs.
"How can there be ones bigger than these?" wails Nüwa as she continues to blindly hurl daggers at any of the Yankees who come too close.
Seeing that she’s not going to get any help from her companions, Miaoyu turns to the only other person who might help her and points in terror at the spiders advancing through the webs. “Gilgadar, do something!”
Gilgadar yawns loudly. Apparently he was dozing. “What? What's the fuss now?” Then he follows Miaoyu's pointing finger. “Oh. You mortals and your fears of spiders, I swear...”
Time stands still.
A trapdoor opens up in the fabric of reality, a strange-looking gap in the air up by the apex of the stone arch, at least twenty feet across. An enormous pair of hands reaches through it, still pulling on gloves as it appears. One the hands are fully gloved, they form into fists and smash down on four of the Yankees still hanging in the webs, pulping them.
“Ugh,” Gilgadar mutters in Miaoyu's mind, “I hate that squishing sensation.”
The hands retreat, peeling off the gloves as they go. They vanish momentarily, only to return with a fifty-foot-tall broom, which they immediately begin flailing through the webbing. The broom's head and handle sweep through layer upon layer of meter-thick anchor strands of spiderweb like it was all gossamer, pausing only to swat at the larger spiders still lingering in the area. The larger spiders are tough enough that broom swats aren't going to bring them down, but they're not enjoying the experience, either: they shriek in pain as the broom's beanstalk-sized bristles press them into the stone, cracking carapace and crushing limbs.
“Let me just get this out of the way...” Gilgadar murmurs, more to himself than to Miaoyu.
A twenty-foot wide dustpan drops from the opening in the air, crashing to the ground, flattening two of the necro-cocoons with almost-comical pops. The hands then shake the broom, dislodging all the webbing from the handle and bristles, and sweep all the detritus—dead spiders, torn webbing, and several feet of topsoil and solid stone—into the dustpan. One of the hands reaches down and grabs the dustpan's handle, and then both vanish into the hole in reality, which seals behind them.
“There,” Gilgadar says to Miaoyu. “That's the worst of the web gone. You and your friends should be able to take care of the rest.”
And that, dear readers, is what happens when you give an arachnophobe access to a spell called Divine Wrath and put her in the presence of way too many spiders: wrecked webs, smeared spiders, and one panting, panicked priestess tilting her head sideways in awe. 5d6 is a lot of damage.
The entire party stares in shock. Where there was a forest of webbing anchored on a rocky streambed, there is now an open space above a rock-lined crater. Water flowing from whatever source feeds the stream begins to pool in the crater. Miaoyu regains her composure and feels a little extra weight in her pocket. She reaches in and finds four silver coins that weren’t there before; they were ‘minted’ from the traces of silver Gilgadar found in the ground as he swept it up. On one side, Gilgadar’s grinning face; on the other, a squished spider. Miaoyu returns them to her pocket. They probably won’t function as currency, but they’re nice souvenirs.
No time to discuss that, though. One of the larger spiders has perched at the top of the streambed on the party's right, above Tsarae and Miaoyu; it almost seems to be waiting for something. Flynn makes his Awareness check to see it and pivots that direction, but the bolts he sends its way goes wide. Tsarae doesn’t see it at all, and contents herself with shooting one of the few remaining smaller spiders. Nüwa prepares herself for any enemies that might come closer, and Seeker drops a Circle of Protection, encompassing everyone but Gavin, who is still too far out.
Two larger spiders are waiting on the party's left side as well, crouched at the top of the ledge between forest and streambed. Their eyes glitter with malice as they watch the party huddle closer together. Aelron spots those and turns toward them, preparing to bring up a wall of fire between the party and those spiders if they begin a charge.
The three large spiders in the midst of what was the web converge on Gavin. Two of them find range and each one stabs twice. Gavin is in seal-form at the moment and not wearing armor, so three of the shots connect. The stream runs frighteningly scarlet. Gavin, barking in pain, slides nimbly down the stream to the party, shifts out of seal form, and adopts a defensive position next to Seeker and Aelron. Even after completing his shapeshift, he's still bleeding.
Two of the Yankees that ran into the forest come into view on the left bank. They latch onto Meng and drag him toward them, out of of the Circle of Proteciton and across the stream.
That seems to be what the big spiders in the trees were waiting for. One can reach Meng without having to leave its perch, though he who manages to get his shield up in time to ward off its blows. The one on the right bank rushes Miaoyu and Tsarae, swinging once at each and clipping Miaoyu. The other left-bank spider springs down and begins skittering toward Nüwa, and two of the three within the web circle around to join it. The last moves toward Seeker.
Aelron narrows his eyes, trying to gauge the timing, and then casts Wall of Fire as no fewer than three spiders charge in on the party's left flank. Unfortunately, with Meng pulled out of position and Gavin still retreating from the webs, he doesn't have a great place to put it. If he places it in its original planned location, Meng will be cut off from the party and probably roasting to death. In order to deny the charging spiders an open attack lane at Gavin's back and Nüwa's low AC, he's going to have to move the wall a bit, and even then it will still singe Gavin and Meng. “Sorry, boys,” he murmurs.
With a massive whoosh of displaced air, a ten-foot-tall wall of shimmering magical fire appears just across the stream from Nüwa. The spiders approaching from that direction lurch to a halt, one of them barely in time to avoid colliding with the roaring flames. None of them has the courtesy to collapse in a heap of twitching limbs, but they have to back out of range of the wall before they can continue advancing on the party, so Gavin is spared four more attacks on the round.
Gavin flinches as the wall bursts into being, blasting a few more hit points off him. Then the spider moving in at him from the webs swings at him and connects solidly, putting a spike-ended limb through his shoulder with a sickening crunch.
Seeker darts out of the Circle, tags Gavin with a healing spell, and rushes back in. Wolfmen and elves have access to a trait that lets them (to borrow some terminology from D&D 3.5) use a standard action anywhere in the middle of a double-move, and he's making the most of it now. Gavin blinks off the pain, stabs the spider that attacked Seeker unsuccessfully a moment ago, trying to draw its ire, then steps away from the wall of fire until it's no longer searing his skin.
Flynn fires at the spider that just punctured Gavin. He's picked up a new feat, Ghost Hunter, which, among other benefits, allows him to ignore an enemy's Armor bonus once per session. His eldritch bolt flickers as it approaches its target, and suddenly, without ever penetrating the chitin shell on the spider's upper surface, it is burrowing its way out of the creature's guts, spraying ichor onto the streambed as it ricochets off a rock. The spider collapses, its eight eyes glassy as marbles.
Aelron knows he needs to buy Gavin more time, so he fires off his last-remaining second-level spell, Winterfall. Shards of ice plummet from the sky, slashing and freezing at the large spiders that are trying to move around the wall of fire to reach Gavin, and coating the ground between Gavin and Gilgadar's crater with a layer of treacherous ice, forcing them to move slowly to keep their footing.
Meng takes a stab at the large spider hanging above him and bloodies its nose (or... whatever), then steps sideways and a few steps back, out of range of Aelron's wall of flame.
Nüwa is furious. No one hurts her bodyguard.
With sudden skill and deadliness, Nüwa begins hurling her daggers at the spider hanging above Meng. Nüwa has picked up a trait called I Am Not Left Handed. When in combat, she can perform skill checks, saves, and attacks at disadvantage (roll 2d20 and take the worse) for as many rounds as she desires. She can then ‘switch hands’ (a la Inigo Montoya and Wesley in Princess Bride) and perform at advantage (roll 2d20 and take the better) for as many rounds as she stayed at disadvantage. Her player’s plan was to save up for a boss of some kind, but saving a friend is a noble cause. Together, the two of them give that spider hell. It ends the round bleeding from a new spear wound, with two daggers protruding from just below its eyes.
Miaoyu and Tsarae focus on the large spider that has barged into their flank. Miaoyu, face to face with a version of her worst nightmare that outmasses her by a factor of five or six, misses badly, but Tsarae sinks a few inches of cold steel into the spider's abdomen and shouts at it angrily. She has its full attention.
Shards of ice continue to hammer the ground in front of Aelron and Gavin, and the wall of fire roars merrily. Tam counts out squares of movement for the spiders that are still gunning for Gavin in various directions, but there's no way they can a) get out of Winterfall's area, b) avoid the Wall of Fire and c) be in attack range of anyone in the party. Given that Winterfall did 4d6 of damage in its first round (it won't continue to do that, but the spiders aren't privy to that information), the spiders don't want to hang around in it, and decide they've had enough. They edge back out of the ice slick Winterfall has left, then turn tail and clamber back up toward the trees.
Aelron dismisses the wall of flame and Meng sees his chance to get to safety; he turns and runs to Nüwa. Nüwa unleashes a fan of enchanted daggers that scythes through the spider up on the ridge, and it jerks and slumps, rolling off the ledge and into the streambed with a dull thud.
Seeing its allies abandoning the field, the spider engaged with Tsarae and Miaoyu turns and flees as well, vanishing into the trees.
By this point, it was about 2:30 in the morning, and we called it for the night, with the promise of continuing into the cavern to find the spider cultists next session.
Up Next: Exactly what you'd expect.