The trip through the forest was a somber one. Alistair, Morwen, Tholee and Tholar had just laid Banlin to rest after the swarming assault of spiders. The encounter had badly rattled Morwen, losing not only a friend that had sacrificed himself for their benefit, but the force of spiders that had threatened to bring them all down. There were no Rangers to escort them; They were on their own.
It wasn’t until they heard music, did the group finally come across some form of friendly life. A Ranger outpost greeted them, situated at the edge of a particularly dense tree line. With what appeared to be multiple dark splatters of viscera that hadn’t been swept away yet. An armed figure in a watchtower had eyes on the party as they emerged, allowing them to approach.
The source of the melody came from a rather unusual source. A tall, broad, very hairy man was seated on a box, strumming what looked to be some form of lute. He was clearly visibly armed with a longsword, a stone hammer, shortbow with quiver, and a wooden shield resting against the box beside him. Painted with a silver and gold tree intertwined with one another to form one large tree. And as they approached, they could hear him singing in a gruff, baritone voice.
“I set my sail
Fly the wind, it will take me
Back to my home, sweet home
Lie on my back
Clouds are making way for me
I’m coming home, sweet home
I see your star
You left it burning for me
Mother, I’m here"
The song ends, and he looks up at the approaching adventurers.
Dernfara and the group converse for a moment, wishing to recruit the singing Barbarian to join their cause. He agrees, wanting to leave this outpost and its largely unwelcoming Rangers. One such Ranger, the head of the outpost, arrives to explain the Barbarian can’t leave just yet; Their agreed contract of service for him to help them for intruding into their forest had not yet been fulfilled.
So he sat back down on his box and resumed playing, though more sullenly after being reminded of that fact. The group proper accepted a request from the Ranger, in exchange for gaining their aid in the upcoming battle. They would wipe out the discovered source of the spiders harassing their outpost and patrols. If done, the Rangers would give them aid.
Morwen, Alistair, Tholee and Tholar agreed and were given directions as to where the Rangers’ best guess for the beast was. The party accepted any supplies that the Ranger were able to offer then, with Tholar getting a little bit more thanks to betting on some lucky dice rolls with a Human stationed there, netting him some extra gold.
Refreshed and armed with information, the group heads into the woods, to fulfill the request of the Rangers. A short time passes, and they emerge into a small clearing. In the middle of which is a lone figure sitting at a bonfire. Morwen and Alistair decide to split and stick to the shadows to better investigate. Morwen moves into position, but Alistair has to combat the forest floor, and loses. Repeatedly. Badly.
The figure turns out to be a Ranger, and he hears Alistair’s bumbling and rather loud swearing over his lack of stealth. He hails Alistair, very clearly hearing him, and Alistair decided to emerge from the brush, knowing that he had thoroughly caught.
“Who are you?” The Ranger asks.
“I’m Alistair, a Ranger of Ithilien.” He replies, approaching the fire.
As he approaches, Alistair notices something off about the fellow Ranger. But he couldn’t place why. He also notices the ground near the fire getting stuck on something, something very sticky. He manages to catch himself and not get tangled in the layer of webbing across the entire clearing.
“I wouldn’t move if I were you.” The Ranger warns Alistair. “I’m trapped right in the center. I managed to light this fire, but I’m afraid I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. I’m glad you came along, actually. I could really use your help.”
“I bear you no insult” Alistair begins. “but are you friend or foe?”
“Until you tell me, I see no reason to share.”
“What are you doing here?” Alistair presses.
“I got stuck. I hunted alone and managed to end up stuck in this webbing.”
“Why did you decide to travel alone in this part of the forest? Surely you knew of the dangers.”
He gives a sigh and a sad smile. “I got lost heading into this part of the wood. I lost my companion some time ago, much to my dismay. And since then, I tend to work by myself. And try to keep this part of the forest cleared. But enough about me; What about yourself? You seem a bit out of place in these wood.”
“I’m here to find the source of these… monstrosities.” Alistair elaborated.
The Ranger smiled and replied, “The spiders? If that’s the case, you must’ve brought allies.”
“What makes you think I’m not alone as well?”
“Because I can hear the breathing of your allies from a mile away.”
With that realization, Tholee and Tholar emerge from the brush, stepping forward and being mindful of the webbing across the forest floor. With Tholee grumbling to himself about this strange fellow. While Tholee asks,
“So, ’ow long have you been ’ere?”
The Ranger gives a shrug. “Hard to say. It’s been a quite awhile.”
“Well if it’s been awhile, surely you must be ’ungry?” Tholee pressed.
“Indeed I am. Would you happen to have any rations or water that you’d be willing to share?”
“How long have you been without rations?” Alistair asks.
“Can’t remember.” He replies simply.
“Ya can’t remembar th’ last taime ya ate? Whut’s wrong with ya lad?” came Tholar’s incredulous reply.
“These woods do strange things to you, don’t you agree?” He replies.
“Well, th’ lease we can du is bring ya sum food. We gut rations t’ share.” Tholar offered.
“That’s very kind of you. I’m still stuck at the moment. Would you be so kind as to bring them here to me?”
Tholee warns his brother Tholar about this Ranger, that something seems off. He just shrugs off Tholee’s comment, saying that ’it’s th’ right thing ta du’ and starts to head towards the fire and the Ranger.
As Tholar moves forward, the Ranger comments, “Do you not trust me?”
“Of course we do!” The Dwarf replies. “But we don’t want th’ rest of us t’ get stuck.”
“Hm, a fair point. Perhaps you could toss it to your friend here?” He gestures to Alistair.
“Certinly!” He replies, and starts to move in towards the webbing to toss a ration to Alistair for sharing. However, his boot snags hard on a patch of webbing and he falls forward. His hands plant themselves on the webbing, and he is firmly stuck. Getting in between every crease and crack in his hands, nearly losing his large battle ax in the process.
“Ha!” The Ranger snorts. “Not as sure footed as I thought. No need to worry, the fire will keep the spiders at bay for awhile. So you’re in no immediate danger.”
Tholar, getting tangled in the webbing, attempts to struggle free of the very sticky, fastening material. And manages to break himself free through sheer strength.
Alistair, seeing that the webbing is becoming a problem, drops the torch he happened to be carrying, directly onto the webbing across the entire floor. It hits the webs, and they quickly catch fire, erupting in streaks of flame. Causing the entire clearing to go up in flames and damaging Alistair, Tholar, and the Ranger. But just as quickly as it happened, the fires died down.
However, the Ranger was looking worse for wear. He was clutching his face, smoldering and bubbling after catching a streak of that web fire, crying out in agony. His clothes are black and burned, and looks as though he’s ready to lash out at Alistair for his idiotic move. He stands, bow in hand. In weird, slow, jerking motions.
“Now why did you have to do that?” the Ranger seems to growl at Alistair.
Morwen, who had been noticed by the Ranger just moments before, emerges from the brush she had been hiding in. As soon as she appears, everyone feels this wave of… something, pass over them. Alistair resists, but Tholar, Tholee, and Morwen are less fortunate.
“Y’know” the Ranger began, peering through the fingers clutching his face. “you seemed to have hurt me. Or, at least, this human shell of mine.”
From the shadowy treetops above, emerges a huge either-legged figure. A single-story home-sized black spider descended into the clearing. The Ranger appears to be little more than a puppeted corpse, hanging gruesomely from its head, swaying this way and that with its every motion. The corpse, now in full view, appears to have silken strings trailing from a few of the spider’s legs, controlling the shell. Its voice still seems to come form the half-melted face of the human, but there is a noticeable, underlying clicking to her speech now.
“I see you’ve found my lair.” came the slow, creeping voice of the spider. “And now that you have, what do you plan to do?”
Morwen, in spite of herself, and the current situation of a giant spider now very clearly menacing them, and the Ranger being little more than a large fleshy facade at this point, decides to try and talk to the large arachnid.
“Why did you do this?” Morwen hesitantly asks.
“Oh, I did nothing.” came the soft, droning tone of the spider. Its mandible audibly clicking every so often after an exhale. “This” she gestures at the Ranger with a leg, causing his hand to raise up on a string of web. “young man, he set me free.”
“‘Set you free’? From what?” Morwen presses, clutching the wolf pendant from Dirhael in her hand, her knuckles white.
“You don’t know?” the spider commented. “How unfortunate. I am a daughter of a great spider queen. My sisters have been taken, and slain. But I am still here. But I was caught. In a web not of my own.”
“Ironic.” Alistair dryly comments.
“Indeed.” came the somewhat cold reply form the spider, giving an annoyed clack of her mandibles. The voice seems to suddenly shift in location, appearing behind Tholar, speaking again very close to the Dwarf.
“You, Master Dwarf, appear very formidable…” She hissed. He whipped around to face the creature, but there was nothing there. The huge arachnid hadn’t moved.
“And you, Master Dwarf, must be his brother…” came the purr into Tholee’s ear.
Tholar grit his teeth and seemed to be getting ready for a fight, to lash out should that thing come close to him. The spider almost giggled at this. A soft, tittering sound.
“Why Master Dwarf, why has you so upset? It’s not as if I’ve pilfered your girlfriend yet.”
“Ah dun’t ‘ave a gurlfrind yet, but yu stay th’ hell awhey from mah bruther!”
The spider’s voice moves again, this time appearing behind Morwen.
“The Dwarf seems to be defending you. How sweet. Just imagine what he would look like if I ripped off his head. Like the last Ranger you encountered…”
Morwen stands locked in fear, but says nothing. The voice moves once more, now beside Tholee.
“And you, young Dwarf. You seem to have a great deal of experience when it comes to my.. children. And their.. poison. D’you still feel it coursing in your veins?”
The Ranger jerks to the side, allowing Tholar and Alistar to see a normal-sized spider skitter from across his neck into his clothes. His form is clearly limp, and goes with the large spider as it retreats into the forest. The voice appears beside Tholar again.
“You can no longer see me, Master Dwarf. That will prove quite difficult if you wish to fight me.”
Morwen shouts, “How d’you know any of this?!”
“Ah… Being the daughter of a great spider, it gives me certain… powers.” The spider gives that tittering giggle again. “And after all, you are in MY domain.”
Alistar calls out to the wood, “I will BURN this entire forest down if I must!” And is immediately chastised by his allies for such actions. And Morwen even reminds him that this forest is sacred.
But during this quick, heated exchange, the spider’s voice returns. Only this time, it isn’t coming from some unseen location that the group couldn’t quite see.
It was coming directly from Tholee’s mouth.
“Well my dears, it seems we haven’t been entirely honest with one another. Seems that this Dwarf, was my friend all along.”
“Ah’ll nevar help th’ likes of yu!” Tholar manages to retort.
“She must be doing that because of the poison.” Morwen comments aloud.
Tholee’s face is strangely contorted as the spider’s speaks through him. “Perhaps. A curious power, wouldn’t you say? Allowing me to.. test, some things.”
“And I am Ranger Dirhael.” The puppeted corpse pipes up from his position hanging from the spider’s face and its controlling limbs. “The Ranger that deserted.”
He sticks his hand into the bonfire. Even as the skin burns and bubbles from the heat, the spider is forcing his face to show a locked, twisted grin.
“Now” The spider continued. “gentlemen and lady, how much would it hurt you to know that”
“Someone special” It whispered to Morwen.
“Someone you love” it murmured to Tholar.
‘Something you need" it purrs to Tholee.
“Everything you wish to own” it spoke to Alistar.
“could be taken away with but a word from my lips?”
“I’d like t’ see ya try ya eight-legged bitch." growled Tholar.
Tholee is then flung to the ground with a hard swat from the spider’s leg. He hits the ground, but he manages to keep his weapon, intact and loaded.
The creature speaks through Tholee’s mouth once more.
“Do you not think a creature like I, would not have such power? The power to hurt you?”
“If you’re so powerful, then stop hiding and face us!” came the frustrated bark of Alistar.
And with that, the voice hovers over Tholar’s head, from the treetops. A single drip of acid falls onto Tholar’s shoulder, singeing his cloak.
“Do you know” she droned. “what would drive you truly mad? Is if I never even touched you, and was still able to defeat you.”
The teasing voice of the spider slowly drifts away, along with the clicking and chittering of the insect leaves with it. The forest slowly drifts off into silence, punctuated only softly by the sound of breaking branches.
The Ranger, with little chance to resist or object, notches his bow with an arrow, and starts to draw. He hasn’t gotten a target yet, but the party watches as he bites into his pinky as his hand draws towards his mouth, and webbing pours from the wound. The spider has its strings buried deep within this pour soul. A tragic puppet to be used against the group.
“I’m sorry.” Dirhael says tearfully, unable to stop, or even struggle against, his actions.
Before the party could even draw their weapons to fight, Dirhael drops his weapon and his back arches at a steep angle.
“You can’t.. control.. meeeeaaarrrggggghhhhh!”
His fingers erupt in a spray of blood and a sickening wet sound, revealing long spider legs jutting out of his joints, looking like large claws sticking out. He rights, and focuses his white eyes at the group. Dirhael was gone, fully under the spider’s control and use now. After Dirhael’s transformation, four spiders descend from the treetops to join the human puppet in combat. The spider-mother itself is not visible to the party.
Morwen, shortsword drawn, lashes out at the nearest spider, shouting to the treetops, “You know nothing of my past!” and rams the blade into the spider’s body, to the hilt. She wrenches it free, drenched in green ichor. But the spider was still alive.
Close beside her head, she hears the clicking whispers of the spider queen.
“Would you like to discuss the Ranger of your youth? It hardly matters, since I will repay your aggression in kind. With your grisly demise.”
Alistar lets loose an arrow towards Dirhael, feeling that mercy would be a welcomed kindness to the infested man. It strikes true, and sticks in his torso. He seems barely fazed by the arrow sticking out of him, and just swats at it, breaking the shaft and looking no worse off than he already was.
Tholee, stuck firmly to the ground by the remnants of the sticky webbing, manages to pull his face away with a noticeable ripping sound, like sheets being torn. Losing some of his beard to the webbing, but he had his footing again. He quickly scanned the area, and realized that it wasn’t residual webbing that got him, but the webbing itself seemed to be alive. After he got to his feet, the webbing itself left his face and quickly retreated into the wood. Somewhere.
Tholar decides he’s had enough. With a bellowing war cry, he charges headlong into the battle proper. He rushes the wounded spider, slamming his shoulder into the man-sized spider, knocking it to the ground, and slamming the head of his ax into the monster’s body. Bisecting it cleanly and splattering green ichor over his weapon and his front. Unfortunately, Tholar, in his battle rage, missed the web trap that had been set in his path. He was now firmly stuck in place. While stuck in the webbing, Tholar could feel vibrations running across it and into his full body. That cruel mimicry of a human voice hissing overhead once more.
“I see you too, are intent on harming my children… I will be sure to return the favor to you, and your loved ones!”
The ground under Alistar’s feet beings to quake and rumble. The Ranger isn’t fast enough to get out of the way, as another web rises up from the earth, drawing upwards and trapping him firmly in place.
“One down, three to go.” The voice chittered.
“I’m not dead yet!” Alistar snapped, his mouth not yet immobilized by webbing.
“Not yet. But you all will be savored when the time comes.”
The spiders retaliate, darting towards the largely stuck and trapped PCs. Tholee manages to avoid a bite from the first spider, and Alistar is even more fortunate that it misses completely and rips the webbing off the Ranger in the process, freeing him from the web. Tholar takes a nasty bite from the last spider, but his Dwarven Rage allows him to easily fight the effects off, wrapping his lips around the puncture wounds, sucked the poison out, and spits it on the ground. The form of Dirhael rushes Alistar, his new claws lashing across Alistar’s chest, but his armor absorbs the attack.
Morwen moves in to try and put down Dirhael before he does more harm. His head spins around, the neck audibly snapping to do so. From within, comes Dirhael’s voice.
“Don’t do it! I’m not dead yet!”
With tears welling in her eyes, she lashes out as the body croons, “At least I get to see you die…” The attack falters, Morwen overcome with emotion and unable to find purchase.
Alistar, free of his webbing, draws his dagger after dropping his bow and slashes down at the arachnid. But he swings wide and misses. He brings his arms up after the attack and assumes a more defensive position, expecting the worst in retaliation. Tholee, finding himself without a melee weapon and not wishing to engage in close range anything, he draws his crossbow and fires point blank. But misses as his shot strikes the ground. Tholar cried out with “May th’ best Dwarf win!” and lets loose another mighty swing of his battle ax, cutting deep into the spider menacing him.
There comes another chittering giggle in the treetops as events begin to conspire against Tholee. Against his will and better judgement, his legs start to flex and shift, and carry him away from the spider he just shot at. Taking full advantage of this, the monster strikes, sinking its fangs deep into his shoulder ignoring his armor completely. Unlike his brother, sadly, his fortitude isn’t quite as strong and Tholee’s body starts to succumb to the burning pain surging through his body. With Tholar being filled with poison, the spider bites back against the raging Dwarf that carved a large cut across its body. However, when it finds purchase, the arachnid reals back in surprise, and seems to sway on the spot. Its mandibles clicking lazily and teetering back and forth on its eight legs, its gaze bearing much less killing intent now. It seemed as if it had gotten intoxicated from Tholar’s blood. Dirhael’s body jerkily turns to one side, facing Morwen, and lashes out with its rending claws, tearing across Morwen’s chest. She feels a cold, numbing sensation spread out from the wounds, but is able to resist the effects and keep herself in the fight.
“Why are you doing this?” Morwen calls out.
“I just want to make you understand, that I don’t want anything to happen to you. You just don’t understand the extent of my existence…” The spider purrs through Dirhael’s mouth.
“Leave our minds! We don’t WANT to understand your twisted reasoning!” Morwen snaps. Her rage finally boils over at the spider queen and her mind-snaring tactics, and she lashes out at the puppeted corpse of Dirhael. Her shortsword cleaves through the spider claws and up across his chest, biting deep, past his armor and into his flesh. The Ranger, seemingly comes back to consciousness for a split second, and coughs, “I’m.. sorry…” and hits the ground with a very un-life-like thud.