08:02 – 08:12 – With the guardians slain, the group turn their attention towards the structure they seemed to be watching. Above the door is carved a small symbol, which is recognised by Grigori as the elemental sigil for water; the holy symbol of Quaine'Ar, the Well God; God of springs, wells, ponds, lakes, mists, rain and pure water. The roofless building itself is small; roughly 12' x 12' x 15', and remnants of verdigris and sodalite ornamentations can be seen on its inner walls (once the thick cobwebs have been cleared away). There is no floor any more, an 8' wide hole, utterly choked with thick giant spider webs, dropping away into darkness within. Closer examination reveals that the webs below form a tangled, tacky tunnel of tough fibres – a safe route down if the group are careful.
Going on what they have discovered, Grigori deduces that this was once a Well Shrine; a small shrine raised over a freshwater well, dedicated to Quaine'Ar. At the back of the structure, almost lost beneath years of moss, grime and webbing is a faded plaque carved with strange words. Drawing on his historical knowledge and his own language skills, Grigori is able to make out the meaning of the plate's inscription – written he realises in one of the three ancient Feyan tongues - “Sanctified in Honour to our Lord; 13838 K.C.”
The date means this place was built in the Second Age. This structure is ancient beyond reckoning.
08:13 – 08:15 – Grigori activates the floating lantern, its brilliant magical light spilling out through the misty air. Peering down into the hole they see that the shaft drops some 75', ending in a cold pool of spring water at the bottom, though the web tunnel bends to the southeast 25' above this and enters the caverns in which the Attercops make their lair proper. In the distant gloom of the pool something glints with a blue-green light, and a small argument ensues as the group decide whether or not to check it out now, or whether to get on and find the Attercop nest proper. As the argument seems to be ending, the assassin skilfully works a stable hole in the web tunnel, which will allow a rope to be dropped to the waters below, and the argument picks up again.
In the end, the party vote to kill first, fish for glinting mysteries second – much to the irritation of the faerie dracani, who wants to see what lies down there NOW!
08:16 – 08:22 – Unhappy with the situation, the group crawl on hands and knees through the low, tacky tunnel of fibres, the whole structure bouncing alarmingly with their movements. They eye the barbarian's flaming axe with fear, only too aware of what would happen if the tunnel were to catch light and vanish in a burst of flames, and several times someone panics as they spy an allies weapons dragging along the web tunnels sticky walls.
08:23 – 08:26 – The web tube enters a solid stone tunnel, and soon the group are able to stand up into a hunched crouch. Moving as quietly as they can, the group shuffle forth until the tunnel opens out into a vast cavern at least 50' wide, 100' long and 60' high. Every inch of the cavern is swathed with thick webs, some of which drip with particularly thick adhesive substances, others which ooze noxious fluids, and shelves of rock rise 15' at either side. Large clusters of egg sacks dot the chamber and the air is filled with strange glowing distortions, like the eddies on the surface of a brook, which cast a liquid light into the area – some kind of localised dimensional anomaly according to Seren.
From their position, the group can only make out a few of the things that live in the chamber beyond; a handful of small spiderlings (transparent and about the size of a large cat) and a single attercop warrior with a heavy greataxe of sharpened chitin. A large pool of coiling smoky darkness in a far corner seems out of place, and closer examination reveals that within the darkness lurks a vast chitinous thing that seems to exhibit the worst aspects of spider and scorpion – a cildabrin according to Varracuda, who informs the party that they are extraplanar vermin attuned to the same shadow dimensions that Jaeger draws his power from.
Unsure of how to proceed with the highly restrictive terrain, and sensing that despite initial appearances a substantial force dwells beyond, the group hold back. Then the assassin produces a small clay flask, sealed with wax and marked with an alchemical symbol indicating “Fire” from his backpack, which he lobs at the attercop. The ungainly projectile smashes against the monster, drenching it in sticky flaming chemicals, the webbing around it vanishing in the sudden inferno. The monster howls in pain, and its screams double, as both Istan and Emmiven stride forwards and blast it with firearms; the former with his pistol, the latter with his dundorin blunderbuss (a lucky hit considering his total lack of training with the hefty firearm).
This seems to awaken the unseen horror in the dim chamber beyond, for suddenly the groups' view is obscured by the bloated, shimmering form of a phase spider, which bites the barbarian (who had slogged his way through the webbing to enter the chamber). Istan charges in to attack it, but is sent on an involuntary trip to the far reaches of the visible area, where he is attacked by Cildabrin (two of them), tiny spiderlings and another attercop.
And that's it. The nest is awake and every scuttling, venomous thing darts in to devour the group. At first the battle very much goes to the groups' plan. Seren and Grigori create a safe zone close to the entrance filled with radiant energies, the ground glowing as if energized by the twin suns. Enemies within this area are blasted and dazzled, burned by the priests invoked power and rendered vulnerable and exposed by the sorceresses, whilst allies wounded to the point where blood is drawn find their injuries healed by the golden radiance. The warriors launch in, tearing through even the stickiest webs with little real effort, and managing to mostly avoid the venomous webs (who's touch raises blackish-green welts as their corrosive toxins go to work), and within a few seconds one of the attercops lies dead, as does one of the phase spiders.
However, the easy flow of battle is suddenly turned around when one of the cildabrin opens its fangs wide, and spits a smoky mass of tenebrous webs, infused with the foul energies of shadow, around the warriors at the front. These also fill a large area beyond, creating a zone of deadly draining shadow webs; sticky and deadly. In truth the worst aspects of the webs are negated by the unfailing light of Grigori's floating lantern, their restrictive physical substance rendered insubstantial as smoke. Unfortunately, they are so laden with deathly energy however, that those within their grasp are rotted by it; their flesh immediately erupting with stinking necrotic boils and seeping, pussy sores, and It becomes quickly apparent that the group cannot simply try to hold the strategic area they currently battle in, and must fight forwards, through the sticky and oft' poisonous webs, into the more exposed areas of the caverns heart.
Schnecker lays about his foes with his usual insane joy; his moaning, screaming axe not only slicing into the enemy he strikes, but blasting those nearby as he focuses his own battle cries into deadly waves of thunderous power. Istan, having fallen back to the area of cavern cleared by the alchemical fires swipes at spiderlings, and is soon joined by Varracuda as he teleports in to strike at an enemy he infused with marks of arcane energy. Jaeger pours his shadowy magics into his weapons, and uses his incredible alchemical skills to deliver withering cones of envenomed bolts, the poisons altered by his dark power so that they are fully effective against these normally poison resistant foes. His eerie shadow blade flickers back and forth, appearing from smoking shadow portals to rip into enemies before returning to him, whilst Emmiven trudges through the webbing to deliver shattering blows with his hammer; exploding spiderlings, splintering chitinous plating and sending enemies tumbling to the floor.
Seren and Grigori stay back a ways. Seren, now 7 ½' tall, covered in golden scales and almost completely morphed into her true Drakven form, her clothing stretching to accommodate her new body, gathers all the destructive energies of the universe and hurls them at her foes. Fire and thunder, acid and frost; all leap and strike at her command, her form blurred by the wavering air as she channels alien and arcane energies through her words, will and implements, before sending them winging like angels of death, towards her foes.
Grigori, surrounded by a nimbus of pale, clean radiance is the mirror opposite of Seren, for where she is crackling, surging madness and barely restrained fury, he is serene light, calm calculation and detached, cold, purpose. His incantation prayers befuddle foes and unravel their fundamental energies causing wounds and weakness, whilst his other prayers simply erase almost all and any wounds suffered by his colleagues. The priest advances slowly, allowing the lanterns light to pour ahead into the expanding zones of writhing, death-filled shadow webs being coughed forth by the cidabrin, negating their physical embrace but doing nothing to reduce their rotting negative radiance.
And then the reason for this mission makes itself known; the attercop mother – the source of the attercop infestations in the region.
In truth she is nothing like the party were expecting. She is only slightly larger than the normal attercops' and is not bloated with eggs or young. She has six limbs – two triple-jointed legs, and four long, spidery arms, each ending in black, fang like claws, and a flat head studded with eight ruby-red eyes. Huge fangs, oozing droplets of venom form most of her lower face, and as she advances, the flow increases like saliva flowing from a hungry dog spying meat.
She leaps towards Varracuda and lands two deadly blows on him, seriously wounding him and pumping him full of venom. The genasai is rendered senseless by the poison and the group can only watch in horror as both the cildabrin and the one remaining phase spider move to devour him. Seren draws on the energies of the void, her companions lungs aching as the air is drained of vitality briefly, a black frost forming around her in a small circle. Blades of roaring energy, infused with a terrible cold open frozen wounds in the monsters, their thick hemolymph freezing into grotesque icicles as it bursts from their bodies. Varracuda unleashes fire in a searing cone and Istan all but disembowels the mother with two masteful strokes of his heavy blade; the first opening her abdomen up completely, the second describing a sucking wound across her clavicle.
Sensing the battle is once more turning in their favour, the party move in for the kill, and in a blur of violence all but one cildabrin and the mother are slain. Then, realising that this monstrosity would make a valuable sale to Jurgen Throndor'Gulv, the beast master at the Irin Arena, Emmiven calls upon his innate powers to assume the form and mindset of an attercop. He then calls to the mother in her own chittering language, offering her either a swift death at the hands of his colleagues or a chance to fight for her life once more. To his own surprise, she loudly begs for the chance to be allowed to live, and drops her guard.
“What?” gasps Istan, confusion etched across his sweat and blood spattered face, “what is going on?”
“She's surrendered” answers Emmiven, his form once more that of a tall, well-muscled human, “We can take her to Jurgen and sell her as a beast for the arena.”
The group relax, noting that the remaining cildabrin has backed off, its pincers nipping nervously, its fangs shuddering, its tail twitching. They move to secure the seriously wounded mother, but stop when Istan gives a scream of rage.
“No! No fucking way! She dies now or I will not assist you. The deal was we dealt with this evil permanently so that Aramayne was safe. This is not how that happens.”
The group turn to Emmiven, who, realising that there is no room for compromise, suddenly swings his hammer into the face of the surprised attercop mother, caving it in with a sickening burst of thick fluids and dangling chitin.
She dies instantly.
A dark scream goes up from the cildabrin, and it attacks.
It lasts a whole 12 seconds before it is taken down by the group, an orb of rending force blasting its head apart – casually thrown by the Drakven sorceress.
08:27 – 09:00 – A thorough search of the chamber uncovers a small cache of gems, coins and enchanted items. Amongst these is a handsome spear etched with runes of power (taken by Emmiven), a pair of black iron armbands inscribed with dundorin glyphs of strength and blade skill (taken by Schnecke), and a pair of light boots woven from pale blue silk, which seem to emanate a constant breeze (taken by Seren). Varracuda claims a heavy bastard sword for himself, noting the striking symbols on its blade that speak of power as yet to be unlocked. Grigori selects a amulet that he theorises can grant him increased durability, whilst the assassin pockets a small device he recognises as a skeleton key – a huge boon to anyone wishing to open most locks.
A beautifully crafted breastplate of drake scale armour, its inner surface festooned with reactive abjuration glyphs is claimed by Emmiven, and from the bottom of the well chamber; a holy icon made from aquamarine, malachite and set with small freshwater pearls, carved with the symbol of Quaine'Ar, and an eerily beautiful net of pale silk that emanates a palpable aura of biting cold.
09:01 – 09:40 – The group wearily make their way back to Aramanyne, and discuss the trials yet to come. Istan tells them that they will leave that night for Irin, where they will head for the Northwood district, and the residence of an artificer named Fren, who he states holds the key to a portal that will lead directly into Darius' bedchamber – a place where they will hopefully be able to ambush and destroy the monster imitating him.