Spoiler: Chapter 29: Bigby’s Aggressive Plot Hook
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The party takes advantage of its temporary reprieve to heal up and get organized. Gavin makes use of his new feat, Unicorn Style, which allows him to heal people with a touch once per day. Being a selkie and a trained singer, he accomplishes his healing by humming or singing notes that resonate with his target. Miaoyu finds this a little creepy, if helpful, but Seeker is fascinated by his abilities.

As Seeker launches into a detailed inquiry regarding Gavin's abilities and training, Tsarae nudges Miaoyu, gesturing to the crater left behind in Gilgadar's wake. “How did you do that?”

"I asked,” Miaoyu replies. Then, to clarify: “Politely." Suddenly, Miaoyu can’t help herself: "You know, if you were polite every once in a while, people might do things for you, too."

Tsarae gives Miaoyu a hurt look and turns away, snarling: “I’m not talking to you.”

Miaoyu panics. “I was kidding! I’d never ask you to be polite! I like it when you’re mean—it’s charming!” Blatant lies, or a really strange relationship? Hard to say with these two.

Tsarae just sniffs disdainfully. Nüwa, who finds domestic troubles far more interesting to eavesdrop on than academic discussions of esoteric magical abilities, shakes her head at Tsarae. “You can’t just ignore her,” she says indignantly. “She loves you! Love can never be ignored.”

Tsarae huffs. “What do you care? I’m still taking to you.”

"And you can’t tell her what to do," Miaoyu scolds Nüwa. The three of them quickly dissolve into a full-blown shouting match. Eventually even Seeker can't hold his train of thought together over their volume, and he and Gavin approach.

“What's this?” Gavin murmurs to Aelron, who's been trying mostly successfully to track both conversations.

Aelron shrugs. “Either they're about to tear one another's clothes off, or they're about to tear one another apart. Difficult to say.”

Gavin rolls his eyes and steps forward. "Excuse me,” he says loudly, his voice suddenly sharp and commanding. “Everyone, if I could have just a moment.” Nüwa, Tsarae and Miaoyu all turn to stare at him. “Thank you. Now, Nüwa, do you still want to help me?" he gestures back at the spider cave.

She nods. “Sure. Of course.”

"Miaoyu?"

She cringes and glances at the spider corpses and tattered webbing. “Only just.”

Gavin prompts Tsarae with a glance. She shrugs noncommitally. “It’s something to do.”

"Good. Then until this is finished, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t kill each other."

Nüwa and Miaoyu immediately launch into scandalized protestations, and Tsarae gives Gavin a look that very clearly says I hate your ignorant guts. “I’m not going to kill them,” she deadpans.

Gavin sighs with satisfaction and gestures back toward the cave entrance. “Good. Now you’re angry at me instead of each other. Let’s go.”

Nüwa and Miaoyu stop in mid-protest and glance at one another, then at Tsarae. After a moment, they nod grudgingly. “You have to admire his tactics,” Nüwa observes sagely. Aelron offers Gavin a stealthy fist bump and an appreciative smirk.

The party files into the cave and and down a steeply twisting ramp. It would be a spiral staircase, but instead of stairs it just has spider webbing; keeping your footing in here is laborious, to say the least. At the base of the ramp, the passageway widens and abruptly forks off, leaving the party with a choice: left or right? This deep underground, the party has only two sources of illumination: an amulet hanging around Nüwa's neck, and a crystal at the head of Aelron's staff. Both of the passages before them are pitch black; Aelron's light is tiny, and Nüwa is near the back of the party.

Gavin holds up a hand for a halt. “Aelron,” he calls back, “A little light on the situation?”

Aelron raps the base of his staff on the ground lightly, and the glowing crystal at its head suddenly increases its output to match Nüwa's amulet. Then he focuses for a moment, gathering energy, and throws a light spell on Gavin's armor. And, just in case, he also blesses everyone with Vision of Color, doubling the effectiveness of all their light sources.

With the light they have, the party can see that the left tunnel opens into a cavern of indeterminate size while the right tunnel simply disappears into blackness. They decide to investigate the cavern, not wanting to leave possible places in their wake for spiders to mass for an attack; they turn left. The going is rough. The floor is covered in sticky webs that reduce the entire party to half-speed. Or, it would, except that Tsarae and Aelron are displaying typical elven refusal to acknowledge terrain as a factor in combat.

The cavern the party comes to is rather small, only about fifteen feet long and maybe thirty wide. It's a bit higher-ceilinged than the tunnels branching off it, though. It has two passages leading further into the hillside, the passage back to the surface, and a lot of spider webs on every surface, but no other occupants. One of the passages forward leads straight ahead; the other branches off to the right and then twists almost immediately into shadow.

“Which way?” Gavin asks from the front of the column.

“Left,” Flynn says. “Deeper into the cavern on the same path.”

“Right,” Tsarae argues. “We're looking for a central chamber. These are spiders. The nexus of the web is always at its heart.”

“We need to find the center eventually,” Flynn agrees, “But I'd rather clear out everything else in here BEFORE we find it.”

Suddenly, Miaoyu starts choking on thin air, pointing upward. Everyone follows her gaze, and lo: concealed in the deep shadows of the stalactite-ridden and web-covered ceiling are two additional branching tunnels.

"Looks big enough for a person to get through," Seeker says.

“That'd be 'they look,' Seeker,” Aelron corrects mechanically. “There's another one to your left.”

"Oh,” Seeker says. “So there is. Hmm. Think we can climb up there?" He glances at Miaoyu.

"I am not going up there," she says resolutely. Not even the DM teasing extra XP can persuade her.

And that's when the whisper of clacking claws begins up in the ceiling. Miaoyu hears it first and quails, pointing repeatedly and insistently up at the tunnels. Flynn takes aim, but can't see anything worth shooting. Gavin is trying to keep his eyes on all four of the room's unexplored entrances at once, as is Tsarae; Meng crowds Nüwa toward a wall, and Aelron and Seeker wrack their brains for an appropriate magical response to this situation.

Without warning, the light of Aelron’s staff flickers out, followed a split second later by Nüwa's amulet. Only Gavin remains glowing, though thankfully his illumination is far more powerful than either of the ones that just died.

Aelron and Seeker glance at one another. “The holes,” Seeker says shortly. Aelron nods, and the two of them begin casting.

Aelron casts Elemental Wall. Back outside, when trying to protect the party's flank, he cast it as a fire spell. This time, he's using the earth magic version. A foot-thick slab of solid stone forms over the hole closest to Aelron, effectively sealing it off.

Seeker never quite got the hang of this elemental magic thing. I mean, sure, for rituals to lower water tables, he can pass muster, but shaping the stone of a cavern into a wall that will hold itself in place, not affect the cavern's geometry enough to cause a collapse, and be thick enough to stop determined intruders... that's more than he can do on the fly.

Plus, it's so much easier to just slap a warding spell over the hole. Seeker casts Wall of Force, and an impenetrable barrier shimmers into existence in front of the tunnel closest to him.

There are simultaneous thuds from both tunnels. Miaoyu spots glittering eyes peering indignantly through Seeker's force barrier.

Nüwa casts Acute Senses on herself, increasing her visual acuity to be on par with Tsarae's: unreliant on light.

Miaoyu, Gavin, Tsarae, Meng and Flynn ready actions to shoot and/or stab the first hostile creature that appears.

A moment later a spider pokes its head into the light down the left-hand tunnel. Flynn, Miaoyu and Tsarae fire as one, and the creature collapses in a twitching heap with two arrows and an eldritch bolt protruding from its face. There is a collective sigh, then a rasp of wood on leather as Miaoyu and Tsarae reload.

A full round goes by and no further spiders are stupid enough to expose themselves to death by readied-action. Gavin gets antsy. “Standing here does us no good. We need to advance.” Aelron casts Light again, re-igniting his staff with a few reserve HP, and Gavin leads the way down the right-hand path. Nüwa and Meng follow him, with Tsarae and Aelron behind them, Seeker behind them, and Flynn and Miaoyu on rearguard.

The path Gavin has selected is ridiculously narrow and almost immediately hooks out of sight to the left. Just before he steps around the bend, Gavin turns back and checks the line behind him. Nüwa, Meng, Tsarae, Aelron... looks like a good order of battle, except...

“Nüwa, Meng, trade places please.” Meng and Gavin both have a feat that grants AC bonuses while adjacent to another fighter. Nüwa, as a rogue, does not trigger it for either of them.

Nüwa gives Gavin a sultry smirk. "Sure, but I’ll miss your sweet butt."

Between Vision of Color and Acute Sense: Optic, Nüwa is currently seeing infrared (among other things). Gavin's face turns almost white with heat, and she smiles as she turns around to try and trade places with Meng.

Gavin, attempting to escape further mortification, steps around the corner early and promptly has to make a Fortitude save: one of those damn Yankees was waiting for him.

Gavin fails the save and is promptly pulled down the corridor (“Amber alert! Amber alert!”), into the waiting claws of one of the large spiders. The hallway widens again just behind the large spider, and three Yankees are waiting behind the bigger one to drag more victims into its reach. Nüwa immediately abandons the swap with Meng to hurl daggers at the spider, but she’s fighting ‘left-handed’ again and rolls a natural 1. One of her daggers scrapes along the wall while the second clatters against Gavin's armor and falls to the floor.

"Stop starting at my butt and hit this thing!" Gavin cries, stabbing furiously at the large spider.

Tsarae charges past, muttering something about “Amateurs,” and plants a sword in the spider's thorax. Aelron follows, and arcane bolts hurtle down the tunnel, sparking off the spider's chitin with brilliant flashes of violet light.

At the other end of the tunnel, Flynn and Miaoyu spot two strange humanoids stumbling toward them down the left-hand passage and both open fire. The light down that hallway is terrible; Aelron and Gavin are the only remaining light sources, and both of them are moving forward rapidly. In the dimness it's difficult to be certain, but it certainly sounds like they hit flesh. Their targets just don't seem to care.

When the creatures shamble into the light, the why becomes apparent: these aren't living creatures, they're the reanimated corpses of hobgoblins. Their eyes have been replaced by obsidian shards, and dark lumps dot their skin like jagged-edged bruises.

One of the zombies lurches forward and hits Miaoyu with its arm. The arm snaps with the force of the blow and shards of obsidian dig into her shoulder. Miaoyu retreats a bit and shoots the zombie right between the eyes, but it keeps coming. Seeker rushes forward, reprising his role as a living shield, and casts Light to compensate for Aelron and Gavin moving further away.

Nüwa, caught between the two battles, falters for a moment before going to support Seeker, Miaoyu, and Flynn; the battle that Aelron, Tsarae and Gavin have been dragged into is around a bend in the tunnel and currently so cramped that Nüwa couldn’t get a decent shot even if she wasn’t fighting at disadvantage.

One of Nüwa's daggers is apparently the final straw: the leading zombe jerks violently, falls to its knees—and explodes in a shower of obsidian shards and bone shrapnel. Flynn and Seeker are standing adjacent to the explosion and have to make a reflex save. Flynn succeeds and ducks behind a stalagmite; Seeker fails and yelps as a few shards burrow through his fur to lodge in flesh.

At the other end of the tunnel, Gavin pins down the giant spider with one of his spears and then rushes the Yankee that pulled him. Aelron, knowing that if he attacks from range the spider will move into melee and clobber him (melee attacks are made at advantage on a target that has made a ranged attack during the round, and it doesn't take these spiders much to hit Aelron), moves into melee first and swings the crystal-weighted head of his staff into its eyes. It chitters angrily at him and swings a hooked forleg at him, but Tsarae interposes herself between Aelron and danger at the last moment, taking the damage instead.

Fun Fact! This is the first time in the campaign that Tsarae has taken damage.

The spider has two attacks each round, though, and manages to hit Aelron with the second. It doesn't actually do that much damage, and Aelron returns fire (ha!) with a double-empowered Burning Hands spell. The large spider and one of its Yankee companions go up in flames; they die in a horrible harmony of hissing shrieks.

Just the sound of it is so beautiful it has Miaoyu tearing up.

Gavin reaches the first Yankee and stabs it hard enough to pin it in its own web. He's raising a mailed fist for the killing blow when Tsarae puts it out of its misery with a well-placed arrow. Gavin shoots her a glare (“Dammit Tsarae!”), but Tsarae is too busy wiping spider guts off of her sword to notice.

Flynn, Miaoyu, Nüwa and Seeker make quick work of the second obsidian zombie; despite making attacks at disadvantage, Nüwa scores the killing blow on this one as well, and, forewarned this time, Flynn and Seeker have danced out of range before it can explode on them.

A new Yankee chooses that moment to come around the corner into the cavern in which Aelron, Tsarae and Gavin stand, panting triumphantly, over the smouldering and pin-cushioned corpses of its friends. The Yankee quickly decides this is way more than he bargained for, turns tail and flees back into the shadows. Tsarae and Gavin just laugh at it, refusing to follow it into a trap.

The party regroups on Gavin and begins heading deeper into the cavern. Once again, they come to a three-way crossroads. One tunnel continues pretty much straight ahead, while the other diverts to one side and slopes downward. Gavin stops the party to consider which way to go, until he remembers the blessing Miaoyu put on him. Normally, Seek just grants rerolls, but he decides to expend it for a push in the right direction. Which he gets quite literally: Gavin finds himself stumbling a couple of steps down the straight-ahead pathway.

"This way," he says, triumphant, and the party matches forward… to another intersection.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice dungeon crawling,” Flynn observes. Meng snorts.

"Maybe I should stop and make a map," Nüwa offers.

Why do we never remember Sanselie until we're already lost?

"And I’d appreciate it if you checked out this scratch," Miaoyu says to Seeker.

So the party settles in for a ten minute break. While Nüwa communes with Sanselie, Seeker dials up Larlon. Some divine spells that were instant before, like Diagnosis and Locate Object, have been altered to be included in a ten-minute commune time. Which translates to Seeker being put on hold. Soft, classical music plays in his head while he waits, and from time to time, a neutral, feminine voice informs him that, Your prayer is very important to us; your call will be answered by the first available Archon.

Eventually, Seeker gets in touch with an archon, who patches him through to Larlon direct—just one of the many perks of being a high priest. Larlon gives Miaoyu a brief scan and nods absently. “She's fine. A few cuts, bruises and abrasions, but even your flamboyant elementalist over there could fix those in his sleep.” Hurrah, no imminent necrotic infection!

Finally, Nüwa finishes her communion with Sanselie and shows her new map to the rest of the party. As before, Sanselie drew the map through Nüwa; this time she's helpfully labeled a few points. The downward sloping tunnel just behind the part is labeled ‘Certain Death’, supporting the party’s theory that it leads to the Underdark. Dead ahead is a large cavern with a little drawing of what appears to be an altar and the words ‘Pretty Certain Death’. Encouraging!

One other thing grabs the party’s interest: one of the tunnels they’re standing before leads to a small side cavern, unlabeled on the map. Nüwa and Miaoyu quickly volunteer to explore it: there could be treasure down there! They have no idea if spiders keep treasure rooms, but it’s a possibility that deserves investigation.

Tsarae volunteers as well and the three of them begin to peel off from the group, until they realize a fourth has joined them. Meng gives Miaoyu and Tsarae a disapproving look and Nüwa sighs. “Can’t you just…,” Nüwa makes a shooing motion with her hands. Meng glares.

Miaoyu takes in a deep breath and approaches Meng. “Listen, I promise you nothing will happen to her, okay? We just need to be able to get in and out without anyone hearing or seeing us, and your armor makes too much noise. We won’t let anyone hurt her.”

She makes a pretty decent Rhetoric skill check, too. Too bad Tsarae just has to chime in.

"You mean we won’t let anyone else hurt her."

Meng and Miaoyu give her near-identical Qennish death glares. Tsarae looks smug. The bickering continues even as the four of them march around the corner and into the small cavern, stopping only when they realize they've reached their destination: the small room is full of of cocooned bodies and empty of enemies.

Seeker immediately begins checking for survivors and finds that nine of the web-wrapped figures are alive. Everyone is hopeful at first, until Flynn says, “They’re all poisoned.”

Now, Gavin’s Unicorn Style lets him heal or cure poison once per person per day. That means he could, in theory, cure each person. The problem is that the cocoons that they’re buried in are thick and sticky and it would take at least two hours to safely cut their occupants free, plus more time to cure them and get them moving, and even then there’s the problem of what to do with them after. Gavin is, of course, raring to tend to them immediately, but reactions to that vary around the party.

Most notably, Nüwa disapproves. “If we cut them free, then what? How are we going to protect them when the spiders attack us again?”

Gavin takes in a deep breath and nods. “Okay. You’re right, I was getting ahead of myself. We’ll take care of the spiders and the altar, then we’ll come back for them on our way out.”

Everyone seems more or less satisfied by this, and the party gets back on track, heading towards Pretty Certain Death. Gavin takes the lead, followed by Flynn, then Aelron, Nuwa, Meng, and Miaoyu. Tsarae brings up the rear; she has the perfect skill set for it, including her ability to see in pitch darkness, competence with swords and bows, and immunity to surprise rounds.

As they approach Pretty Certain Death, they spot three more spider holes in the ceiling, one of which is located in a corner right above the last bend in the tunnel before the Pretty Certain Death cavern. The other two are hidden in crevices, one over the far entrance to the cavern, and the other in the middle of a long stretch of wall. The spiders will have a definite mobility advantage for this next part. The party grits its teeth and presses forward.

A Yankee blunders around the corner, spots the party, and takes off back toward Pretty Certain Death. Gavin gives chase, turns the corner—and two OTHER Yankees pull him right into yet another giant spider. More giant spiders, Yankees, and zombies quickly appear from every nook and cranny. The party charges into the room as far as it can, attempting to come to Gavin's aid.

Behind the party, a spider-like humanoid—an attercop—drops down from the spider hole. It chitters something unintelligble and menacing, and once again the light atop Aelron's staff goes out. Another attercop steps out from behind the giant spider looming above Gavin and casts a spell, then retreats back toward the far corner of the cavern. Suddenly, the entire party is deaf and mute. Voices don't transmit, shrieks of dismay and pain are canceled out, the clangor of chitin-on-steel combat is utterly absent... even wind through nasal passages makes no sound, and breathing is eerie. Without the reassuring sound of rushing wind, the body begins to wonder if it is in fact getting enough air.

“No tactical communication,” Tam tells us, “Until the silence is dispelled or lifted.” Thus begins the quietest few rounds we’ve ever had.

A giant spider drops out of a hole in the ceiling about three feet from Nüwa and tries to overrun her; Meng loyally intercepts, raising his shield and stepping between Nüwa and the blows. Meng and Nüwa counterattack, but Nüwa is once again choosing to fight at disadvantage and can’t manage a hit—between the spider and eerie silence, her hands are shaking too much. Seeker moves forward to assist, placing himself between Nüwa and the spider as well.

Nüwa is staring in horror at the spider looming over her when an eldritch heavy crossbow bolt appears in its side and its blood sprays in a horrible, black arc over the web-wrapped walls. Without sound, the bolt made zero noise as it shot past her, cracked the spider's carapace and embedded itself in the creature's guts. Seeing Flynn standing behind her, arms raised for another shot, is a comforting sight, if somewhat unnerving.

At the back of the party, Miaoyu and Tsarae engage their attercop. Fortunately, they have years of experience fighting together, and don’t need to discuss tactics much regardless of silence spells. Tsarae takes a moment to boost her AC with Turtle Style, and Miaoyu begins sniping at the closest attercop. Due to the risk of close combat, she employs one of her less-often used abilities and creates a shadow clone of herself to confuse her enemies. Once their defenses are taken care of, they begin chipping away at the attercop, Tsarae at close range and Miaoyu at a distance.

Pressure stays on Meng and Nüwa, with the giant spider continuing its attacks and a zombie and another attercop cleric coming forward to join it.

Aelron does not like the dark. He stops for a moment and focuses on his staff, willing the light enchantment up to full power. The crystal glow gutters for a moment, then suddenly blazes to life at its brightest setting, rivaling the light coming off Gavin's armor. The attercop engaged with Miaoyu and Tsarae cringes, and Aelron decides he'll make a good target. He twirls his staff and blasts the attercop with arcane energy. It smokes a bit and crumples to the floor.

Gavin makes a desperate charge past the giant spider directly in front of him and strikes at the attercop sustaining the Silence spell. His spear drives home with remarkable accuracy, just below the creature's shoulder blade, and it shrieks and loses focus on its spell.

Sound returns in a rush. Flynn's next bolt flies with a whoosh, Tsarae's determined hacking at the attercop squelches as it should, and Meng's battlecry rings clearly in the confined space.

Just in time, too. At the far end of the cavern, Aelron sees a cluster of zombies and a Yankee scramble into a hole in the ceiling. “Miaoyu, Tsarae, more incoming!” he shouts.

Miaoyu and Tsarae don’t have much time to prepare: the zombies drop in behind them almost immediately. Fortunately, the zombies are all worthless combatants: not a single one can land a hit on Tsarae's AC or differentiate Miaoyu from her shadow-double. Miaoyu and Tsarae resume their battle. Tsarae steps forward, trying to cover the whole hallway, while Miaoyu falls back to stand with Aelron. She might have a shadow-clone to help her, but the sheer numbers and the possibility of flying obsidian shards make her nervous.

Flynn's next shot kills the giant spider in front of Meng and Nüwa, and Nüwa turns to give Miaoyu and Tsarae support while Meng and Flynn dispatch the zombie and attercop. Nüwa flings one of Aelron's spell grenades at the zombies to soften them up, and Aelron, deciding that sounds like a fantastic idea, follows it up with an empowered version. The obsidian-laced zombies start flash-melting, and actually begin bleeding magma. Seeker puts a quick heal on Meng and then moves after Gavin.

Gavin is completely surrounded by this point, cut off from the party by a wave of zombies and a giant spider, with a Yankee and the attercop he just stabbed crowding him toward the big spider. Behind the attercop is the altar that was illustrated on Nüwa's map: a slab of green stone shot through with red veins. Gavin decides to try and provoke a morale failure, and shoves past the attercop to clamber onto the altar. He hefts up his his waterskins, gives the attercop a wicked grin, and pops the seals on both, dousing the altar in saltwater. He sure hopes they understand human body language—he’s going to die spiting the Princess of Spiders, if he has to.

The Yankee that Aelron saw finally clambers down from the ceiling caves and manages to drag Tsarae forward, into the midst of five zombies. She growls at the spider, elbows one of the zombies out of her way, and sidesteps to the edge of the zombified crowd, just in time to clear the way for Aelron’s next grenade.

One fiery explosion later, the zombies are barely standing. Miaoyu lines up a shot and looses, grinning maniacally. Her arrow pierces a zombie’s skull and the creature explodes into obsidian shards. Those shards pierce the zombies adjacent to it, and they're just not fast enough to dodge. The detonation brings both of them to zero hit points and they detonate as well, which brings the two behind THEM to zero as well. When all is said and done, only one Yankee and one zombie remain, and Tsarae is laughing.

As if sensing his cue, one of the larger spiders drops down into the recently-depopulated hall between Miaoyu and Tsarae. Flynn hears it and whirls to send a bolt that direction, but a couple of Yankees team up and pull him away, deeper into the cavern and toward Gavin.

Gavin's small ocean of opponents doesn't let him remain on the altar for long. He drops behind the altar, placing it between him and the largest of his opponents, and using it to restrict the directions from which his smaller opponents can attack. It’s not the best defensive position ever, but he’s not as exposed as he was standing atop the altar. It gets a little crowded when Seeker clambers in to join him.

“You always pick the nicest places to visit,” Seeker comments as he slips in to stand back-to-back with Gavin and uses his last healing spell to restore some of Gavin's lost blood.

“And you keep coming along,” Gavin replies, stabbing viciously at a zombie attempting to clamber around the altar and forcing it to stumble to a halt. “What's that say about you?”

Flynn, while struggling with the Yankees, spots Seeker and Gavin hunkered down behind the altar. He shouts a warning, then lobs another of Aelron's grenades. Unforunately the Yankees grab him AGAIN, and jerk his arm mid-throw; the spell-form clatters off a stalactite, drops to an empty patch of floor, and detonates to no effect other than scorched webbing.

Tsarae and Miaoyu continue their dance. Tsarae pulls back toward Miaoyu, who picks off the last zombie. Its detonation kills the wounded Yankee they've been beating on, and Tsarae dives forward again, slashing at the giant spider that has just dropped in. Aelron flicks his staff again and arcane bolts sizzle as they strike the enormous creature's legs and back.

Gavin has been doing his best to cull the small horde of enemies he’s acquired; over three or four rounds he's managed to kill the giant spider, wound the attercop and wound several zombies. He and Seeker are still surrounded by zombies, though, and that attercop cleric hasn't bought it yet. Flynn manages to regain his footing and chucks another grenade, carefully missing Seeker and landing right in the middle of the zombie horde. The grenade only manages to kill one zombie, but most of the rest fall to fratricide, and they take the unlucky attercop with them. When the corpses stop exploding, only one zombie is still standing; it makes the mistake of charging toward Flynn, who coolly dispatches it with a well-placed arrow.

The giant spider facing Miaoyu, Tsarae and Aelron decides that enough is enough, and retreats through the hole in the ceiling. Tsarae calls insults after it in several languages, but it does not reappear.

With the battle done—for now, at least—the party regroups. Miaoyu's shadow-clone sticks its tongue out at her, then vanishes. Seeker tends to various wounds (mostly Gavin's), and Gavin finishes pouring his ten gallons of salt water on the altar, then kneels before it and begins consecrating it to the Ocean Witch.

"O, my Lady of the Seas, please accept this humble inland shrine as a sign of your endless, awesome might."

Nah, the Ocean Witch replies coolly. Gavin gapes into space, confounded. The Ocean Witch sighs irritably. Look, I don’t care about some boring inland shrine, okay? You’re free, whatever. Are you still here? Go! The connection between Gavin and his now-former deity falls dead and Gavin rises to his feet, still a bit dazed. A few mild congratulations are made, as are some plans for a proper celebration, and then they move onto that which is most important to any adventuring party: the loot!

It takes a bit of time to gather everything up; Gavin's dance on and subsequent dousing of the altar appear have scattered the thing that were resting on it, but eventually the party scours up a decent sum of money. Near the altar, and presumably once residing on top of it, is a fist-sized diamond in a golden frame crafted to resemble spider legs. Miaoyu and Nuwa estimate that they can get a decent sum out of it from Danica, the jeweler back in Brandt. The altar itself, the party finds, grants one power over spiders if one kneels before it and pray to the Princess of Spiders.

But those are the more mundane finds. What the party really cares about are the magic items. The first one they find is a belt made of woven blue leather with a blue gem clasp; it is cold to the touch. It grants cold resistance, turns the wearer's weapon damage into cold damage, and increases the damage of all ice- and frost-based damaging effects. After a bit of discussion, Aelron takes the belt, both for the hilarity of having resistances to frost and fire, and because it will provide a damage boost to his spells so long as he prepares them to deal cold damage.

Gavin finds and claims a warbar made of bone and silver. Despite the rather gruesome materials, the craftsmanship is remarkable. Seeker's Identify reveals that it will deal double damage against undead targets.

Nüwa finds a sapphire-tipped wand near the altar that allows the user to cast Mage Armor as if they were a seventh-level mage. Nüwa, with the lowest AC of the group, takes it for herself.

Finally, tucked away in the corner and almost overlooked, is a lusterless black gem leaking an inky fluid. Nüwa picks it up and casts Identify on it. The spell fails, and she has to make a Fortitude save to repress the urge to vomit. She sets the gem back down.

"I don’t think it likes magic," she says.

"Could be a gem that one of the gemstone faeries escaped from," Flynn says.

"Or it could belong to Tykanria," Seeker says. "She’s the goddess of darkness and secrets. If any relic would refuse an Diamond spell, it would be hers."

"Well I’m curious," Miaoyu says. She slips the gem into a pouch on her belt. "I’m going to hang onto it for now."

The party leaves soon after, stopping to cut the surviving spider victims free and cure them of poison. They’re barely lucid at best, and the party has to take it slow to escort them out of the caves safely, but they reach the forest and make camp at nightfall.