16 – 19 Etissa 2787
Once most of the stragglers into the Finhold were provided with warm clothes and a place to rest, the party realized that Pearigren had slipped out of the cave without anyone seeing her depart. They had planned to investigate the webbed area at the back of the cave as soon as possible, but Pearigren’s disappearance caused the rest of the group to wait for her return. Roz mentioned that Pearigren had told her that she had a task to take care of and would be back as soon as she could. The vague message only served to increase the party’s tension as they waited on their companion’s return. As night began to fall, their annoyance at Pearigren’s absence turned to concern that ranged from her being in danger to her being a charmed or otherwise enslaved thrall of the mindflayer that attacked Thridein. The party resolved to set off after her in the morning if she had not returned at some point in the night.
The next day, the 17th of Etissa, dawned cool and bright, but brought no news of Pearigren. The party decided to wait a bit longer and organized the survivors now living at the Finhold into watches and established a simple but effective alarm system those on watch could use to alert those inside the Finhold. By noon, the party was worried enough about their friend that they set off toward Thridein, reckoning that Pearigren would almost certainly go there. The group traveled well off to one side of The Knee and kept as quiet as possible as they worked their way through the forest toward the school. As evening approached, the party spotted a group of figures moving northward toward the Finhold on the far side of the stream. A few tense moments passed when neither group could reliably see the other, but eventually Galen was able to discern that the travelers were Pearigren, Thycein (a boy of about 8), Naywyr (a girl of about 8) and Maedia (a girl of about 13). Relieved that they had found their friend, the party set up camp nearby and planned to rest, for it was clear that the younger children were tired and hungry and that Maedia was badly injured. While the rest of the party saw to the food and tents, Pearigren told her story.
She briefly described her decision to travel back to the school to see if she could find Rahim or Orvall (her old boyfriend, who had not made it to the Finhold) and learn what state the school was in after the battle. Galen strongly admonished her for setting off on her own and told her that such tactics would not be acceptable in the future, but Pearigren did not seem overly concerned with Galen’s reaction. Pearigren related that a troupe of ogres were encamped in the school courtyard, the apparent victors in the battle. She also related her daring rescue of the three children, which were being held in a crude log pen near the ogre’s camping spot. The children related that they believed that Rahim had killed the mindflayer that attacked the school, but that he was nowhere to be found. The children believed they were being held until a second mindflayer could arrive to question them about the school and the hiding place of any survivors. Thus, while Pearigren took a great risk in setting off on her own, her visit to the school was a success and denied the ogres and the mindflayers the opportunity to torture or charm their captives into revealing the location of the Finhold. Galen remained upset that Pearigren had left on her own and wanted to travel to Thridein to verify her story, but the rest of the group wanted to return to the Finhold and take care of more pressing business. Galen grudgingly went along with this plan. After an uneventful night in the forest, the party returned to the Finhold with the rescued children, arriving about mid afternoon. Pearigren set off almost as soon as the party arrived to explore the landscape around the Finhold to determine if there were any more defensible locations nearby, but found no place better place to resist an attack than the than the Finhold itself. With all mundane tasks addressed and the party unified, they spent a final night with the other survivors, resting in preparation for the exploration of the webbed area of the cave.
When the party awoke in the Finhold on the 19th, they put aside their differences and focused on exploring the webbed area at the back of the cave. While the others gathered their gear, Galen spent time investigating the webs at the back of the cave. It appeared that a chunk of fallen stone partially blocked a passage deeper into the cave. The area between this stone and the cave wall was completely blocked with dense, white webbing of a kind Galen had never seen before. Rather than being sticky or fibrous, the webs were closer to finely stretched wool or cotton. Every so often he could see a dull flash of green phosphorescence deep within the webs like a stroke of distant heat lightning. By watching carefully, he finally spotted the source of this curious phenomenon: shadowy outlines of four-inch spiders moved thither and fro inside the web sheet. These spiders had some sort of glowing gland on their underbellies that would wax and wane in intensity. His investigation also revealed that a very subtle draft of air moved through the webbing and into the Finhold’s main cave. This air was had an organic, acrid bite to it that attracted flies and beetles from the water’s edge into the wall of thick webbing.
When everyone was ready to proceed, Galen asked that the group not burn the webs but try to bypass the spiders peacefully. They did not seem to be aggressive or at least were not aware of his presence outside the webs and he believed there was no sense in destroying the entire colony if it did not represent a threat. Obosh used a sharp dagger he was carrying to carefully part the webs and cut them free of the stone with the intent of forming a passage to the tunnel beyond. He worked slowly and with care not to harm any of the spiders and they in turn merely scurried to the uncut part of the webs as he widened the rent he was making. The webs yielded reasonably well to his blade and he was able to thrust his head through the six-inch web curtain to see what lay beyond. He spied a rough, winding tunnel that curved sharply to his right some distance ahead. The left hand wall of this tunnel was dense with webbing that seemed mounded like a snowdrift piled high by the wind. The webs decreased in thickness near the ceiling and along the floor. There were dozens and dozens of the curious glowing spiders scuttling through this webbing. The acrid smell was noticeably stronger and the party could now hear a curious squeaking coming from some place ahead.
After carefully opening up a passage through the webs, the party moved into the tunnel beyond. The left wall proved to be extraordinary as it was not solid but was instead a large opening that was completely sealed with webs except for eight to ten six-inch circular openings at various heights along the corridor. At first the party believed these to be entrances to spider nests, but they soon discovered these openings were more like web tunnels that linked the current passage to a vast cave beyond. Peering through one of these tunnels like a porthole revealed a beautiful and curious grotto below.
The current tunnel was something like a balcony that overlooked a bowl-shaped cave. The webs on the other side of this tunnel extended down in a curved sheet from where the party stood down to an ill-looking pool of water at the bottom of this basin. Hundreds, maybe thousands of the phosphorescent spiders crawled over these webs, hunting a myriad of darting, black insects – beetles most likely – that rushed around near the water’s edge. The squeaking came from a cloud of bats that hung inverted from the ceiling of the cave, jostling and flapping occasionally. Their thick pile of guano was the source of the acrid smell and the foul color of the pool below. Lastly, the ceiling above the pool was devoid of bats, for the place was the habitat of a curious plant or insect that grew in long, phosphorescent streamers that dangled above the pool. Once everyone had a chance to take in the bizarre natural beauty of this cave, the group moved cautiously onward.
The tunnel gradually widened as it bent to the right and opened into a smaller though no less interesting cave. On the left, two featureless, roughly humanoid shapes formed entirely of webbing stood guard like sentries. They carried rusted metal shields and wielded no weapons save for a long, sharpened stick that was not gripped, but instead was pierced through their mitten-like hands so that they had the appearance of guards holding spears. The party’s attention, however, was focused on the far side of the room where the webs were piled the thickest. What clearly was once a human male reclined in the center of the webs. The desiccated figure wore rotting, thick robes that could not hide a bare rib cage. Inside, glowing spiders flexed and quivered, giving the figure the illusion that it was breathing. A particularly large spider sat on the figure’s head like a diadem, its glowing abdomen resting in the center of the figure’s forehead like a green jewel. When the party entered, this curious figured sat up and struggled to its skeletal feet. Pearigren noted that the figure’s right leg was shorn off at the knee but the lower leg had been reattached with webbing. It gazed at the party with empty eyes and then began to speak in a hoarse whisper.
It used a curious mix of words that left the party unsure whether the figure saw itself as an individual or as the collective intelligence of the spider colony. It appeared confused and forgetful as to its purpose, though it believed the party was there to aid it since they did not harm “his subjects” (the other spiders in the colony). It was manic at times, trying to recall things that were once important to it. It seemed most focused “on the lines”, a phrase that went unexplained until the creature pulled a rotting backpack from the webbing nearby. It jealously guarded the contents of this bag but eventually handed the party a battered, faded book that at one time must have been finely made. It did not take long to determine that the book was a spellbook and the “lines” were the symbols and other arcane writings of various spells. The creature had some dim recollection of the purpose of such a book and exchanged the spellbook for a second, less well made book. This proved to be a diary dated from the year 2759 and focused on the writer’s search for a place known as [[Ghan’s Refuge]], a collection of wizards and apprentices hiding from the mindflayers in the last days of the Wizard’s War. From this diary the party learned that the writer’s name was Tamil-Ro, a wizard that hoped to enter the safety of the enclave. As a offering of his good will, Tamil was bringing a number of unguents and other curatives to the Refuge in anticipation of curing a rumored disease that was spreading through the place. The writer apparently believed that the enclave was located nearby, someplace in these caves, but was unsure of its exact location. The mission was never completed, however, as the writer’s leg was severely wounded by a beast in the water in what is now called the Finhold. The writer soon died of these injuries, leaving his quest unfinished. It was obvious to all that the diary writer and this strange, webbed and decayed being were the same person.
When reminded of the events in the diary and reminded of his name, Tamil-Ro grew more lucid and even more frantic, insisting that the wizards in the Refuge were in urgent need of his restorative salves and potions. He resolved to set off at once to complete this journey and the party had to scramble to keep up with him as he moved rapidly through the webs at the far side of the cave and vanished into a narrow tunnel. The party cut their way into the tunnel and met up with him at the next intersection. He seemed unable to make a decision as to how to proceed. The chance that anyone from the Refuge was still alive was slim, but the group agreed to help him find this place if it existed. After a brief discussion, the party led him down one of the corridors at random, hoping they would find this enclave and put the troubled soul to rest.
The tunnel they chose led downward to a much larger cavern. Stalagmites and stalactites made footing treacherous and from somewhere ahead the party could hear the rush of water and the chirping of crickets. Pearigren sent a dancing lights spell out into the cavern, revealing a waterfall that filled a small pool and a collection of fungus along the pool’s edge. Huge white cave crickets leapt away from the light and fled deeper into the cavern. The party set off across the uneven floor, giving a wide berth to the waterfall and fungus area, when suddenly large dark shapes fell upon the party from the ceiling. The group had only a moment to realize that some of the stalactites were actually some sort of creature before their lights were doused and they were lost in magical darkness. Galen was wrapped into the membranous wings of one of the creatures and was bitten savagely. Chaos ensued as party members tried to find one another in the dark and separate friends from foes. The creature gripping Galen crushed him in a deadly embrace and he collapsed to the floor while other party members struggled to find their way out of the shroud of darkness and determine the nature of the attackers. Tamil-Ro seemed to be able to see well enough in the darkness and was able to render the creature attacking Galen unconscious. Others drew weapons and tried to find their foes by feel. The creatures proved to be clumsy fighters and fliers and did not manage to injure anyone else despite repeatedly diving upon them from their roosts on the ceiling. Eventually, the magical darkness faded, allowing the party to concentrate their magical power on the things and the battle was soon over. An examination of the creatures revealed them to be cloak-like, with thick, membranous wings edged with talons along the ridges of their wings. Their natural coloring and ability to hang upside down made it hard to spot them among the many natural stone formations in the cave. After the battle, the party healed Galen and the other injured members and tried to determine which one of the two passages they would take to leave the dangerous cavern.