We have nothing to fear but fear itself. And spiders.
On the twilight return to base camp, the castaways chatted about a few of their ongoing plans and issues. Jask, Sasha, and Nemanji took turns carrying Aerys who was too drunk to even stand. The adventurers’ next move was to return to Black Widow Bluff and the cavern of webs where the telepathic power source was detected, though it was the likely home of the spiders’ “Hive Queen” that the injured mite talked about before Likki turned the gremlin’s head to a coconut smoothie. Nemanji bluntly stated “we need to be prepared for swarms.”
Their next(est) move was obviously the lighthouse at the far end of the island, which they all now knew to be inhabited by cannibals called the Thrunefangs. Gelik revealed that the Thrune’s Fang was a Chelaxian warship of the notorious House Thrune, reported lost in these waters. Perhaps the cannibals were survivors? Speaking of wrecks, the bard also said he knew of a Pathfinder ship called the Nightvoice, and she was lost on a mission to recover the treasure of Captain Lortch Quellig, an infamous pirate who buried his booty right here on the Shiv. Word had it that the Nightvoice had the only known map to Quellig’s treasure. “Since we’re already here on the Shiv, what’s the harm in becoming fantastically rich before we leave?” Dornas dourly crushed the gnome’s get-rich-quick scheme when he asked Gelik if he knew where the Nightvoice was, exactly. “It’s a small island!” he countered.
Kor’lec had more important things on his mind than another side quest. The half-elf was all-tormented by the moral fiber of some of his adventuring pals. First issue to deal with was Likki, who by the way, had brought the Mongrukoo unguents—twelve doses of a greasy, foul-smelling paste that would allegedly protect those who smeared it on themselves from disease. Unfortunately, the ointment was extremely soluble, so the wearers would need to stay out of the rain. Anyway, Nemanji insisted that Likki should be fully accepted as a party member, but the others had reservations. The tiefling said plainly that he regarded the demon-blooded goblin as a brother. Kor’lec however was especially concerned about the Mongrukoo’s savagery, and Monica agreed with the druid—though perhaps Likki could be civilized over time. Dornas figured the toothy little oracle was a useful healer but needed to be kept on a tight leash.
All of this eventually brought the conversation to Nemanji and the Gorilla Death Mask. Everyone agreed that Nemanji was trustworthy and trusty in a fight—but the mask seemed to be a relic of the evil Angazhan cult of the Mwangi Expanse. So there was that. The tiefling revealed only that he was gifted the mask by the jungle itself, “the vines gave it to me,” he said. Monica took a close look at the mask and determined that it was old—and probably not of Bekyar or ape-man make. The sharp scholar related the story of Old Mage Jatembe and his Ten Magic Warriors, ancient legends of the lost, fallen Mwangi empire. Though it was almost certainly a replica, the mask reminded her of the golden ape mask worn by one of Jatembe’s famed companions.
That seemed to satisfy Kor’lec as far as Nemanji, but then Kishtari was next on his hit list. Preferring to chat alone, the half-elf volunteered for first watch and woke Kish up later in the night. The half-awake kalashtar deflected the druid’s complaints that she was less than a paragon of virtue, reminding her companion that she grew up on the crime-ridden streets of Riddleport. There, one did what one had too, and had to be hard, because there were no laws or heroes to protect those who couldn’t fend for themselves.
That night, Kor’lec dreamed an emerald serpent monolith raised him from death, but his reflection showed the skeletal face of an undead dragon. Meanwhile, Kish had trouble getting back to sleep, and her ruminations brought her mind to a childhood fable of blue dragon “guardians” who protected the mountains of Adar.
Jask served up a delicious breakfast of sea urchin (gonads), and apologized for not having rice or lemon when some of the castaways balked. Once everyone dug in to the gooey uni, a few of the baffling things that followed became explicable. First, a wild-eyed and shivering Aerys didn’t look too hot, but she really did tie one on yesterday and Kor’lec diagnosed her as needing rest and fluids (hangover). But no one else was all that hungover, and furthermore, nobody ever had a hangover that looked like late-stage rabies. Next, Sasha got completely pissed off at someone or took something someone said the wrong way. It was a discussion about the Red Mountain Devil, that Kor’lec said was a chupacabra but Sasha saw it too and insisted it was her stalker, the green-cloaked halfling in werebat form! Well, a few members of the group humored the teenaged huntress but pretty much everyone else thought Sasha’s theory was completely stupid and nobody was making any silverpoint weapons because of her.
So Sasha was all like, “you’re all just going to starve or die here! Good luck!” and then just took off. And Monica was all “I’m not letting you go!” (when everyone else was like “ugh, just let her go”) and tried to trip the girl with her archeology whip. But Sasha was like “Nope!” and with her rapier flicked the whip away, while her grass cape blew off into the sea in slo-mo, dramatically revealing her Red Mantis shoulder tattoo again. Then she was gone.
All filled with delicious happiness from the shellfish vittles, the adventurers blissfully flounced back on up to Black Widow Bluff without a care in the world—like the cobra they had to carefully sneak past on the way down yesterday. But the gods were with them, because the adventurers arrived at the entrance to Tlukkah’s Lair without incident, just as the high from their intoxicating breakfast began to wear off.
Bunching up into the tight squeeze afforded by the Klixarpillar’s failed stronghold, the heroes made their way back to the web-filled chamber. The enchanted power source, whatever it was, still thrummed inside, and inside the heads of those among the explorers sensitive to magic. Upon preparing to enter, Kish threw down some oil near the cave mouth. Proceeding carefully, Nemanji’s demonic eyes inspected the chamber which was draped and hung with webs on every surface, like linens in a hectic laundry room. The webs were filled with living diminutive vermin, and some bigger ones, and also spider molts and the desiccated husks of various prey creatures. But they were also strewn with bits of coin, precious stones, and other valuables the group couldn’t wait to get their hands on, just as soon as the guards were dealt with.
The last thing Nemanji spied were oversized spiders who descended the web-strewn stones and skittered forward. Behind them, the smaller spiders began to swarm, and a torch was dropped in panic on the oil slick while the heroes jockeyed for position in the tunnel. While tactically withdrawing from the flames and smoke, the heroes took their shots at the pair of giant spiders, one of which leapt through the flames to strike! They also watched in amazement as the swarm threw itself into the inferno in an attempt to smother it.
Washed the Spider Out
The heroes retreated to the lair’s entrance, where they finished off the advancing watch-spiders and waited for the smoke to clear. Re-inspecting the cavern of webs showed that the fire did little actual damage. Probably for the best, as most of the treasures, perhaps trinkets taken from the Hive Queen’s victims, were still intact. The room was bisected by a fifteen foot ledge into high and low sections, the way they came in was on the higher side. The great tentacled multi-headed statue that Grougak, Likki’s half-fiend grandfather, discovered and claimed was the Mongrukoo tribal god was visible in the southwest corner on the lower side. As it was wrapped in a funnel of webbing from its heads to the cavern ceiling, the heroes guessed that the statue was where the Hive Queen slept. They decided to pretend she wasn’t lurking in the darkness somewhere and tried to sort out their surroundings, which were no ordinary cave formation.
Monica, despite her fear of bugs, was giddy, for only partially obscured by ten thousand years of limestone buildup was the kind of archeological discovery that those in her field made their names on.
A serpentfolk sanctuary.
There was evidence among the still-visible carvings and motifs that the island was once a major holding of that extinct ancient race and that several powerful serpentfolk dwelt here millennia ago in the Age of Serpents. The chamber the heroes found themselves in was the throne room of a serpent lord named Ssialla, The Mistress of Beasts. The statue, in fact, was actually of her, horrifically vandalized by the goblins years prior in an attempt to make it resemble their idea of Mechuiti. The menhir in the center of the room allowed its master to use ritual magic to connect to and control the minds of the island’s beasts. Perhaps it could again, if the rocky crud was chipped from its surface and the proper rites could be discovered…
An idea occurred to the group. Though the true power of the menhir— The Beast Stone —was beyond their reach at present, perhaps a sufficient amount of metaphysical meddling (aka “faking it”) could at least break Ieana’s dominance on Kai. Monica poured herself into the task.
And that was when the impatient or hungry (or both) Hive Queen finally descended from the cavernous ceiling, tossing webbing upon the heroes, chattering curses in her hideously obscure insectile language. She stood erect upon her landing, and was vaguely humanoid, a flabby belly bulging with veiny purple eggs. Bones and humanoid body parts decorated her body, held fast by ribbons of webbing.
Kor’lec and Kai deftly avoided the thrown webs and wasted no time trying to surround and flank the Queen, though positioning was difficult on the verge of the drop where the arachnid monster had landed. But while the rest of her team were fighting for footing, Kish confidently strode upon on the psychic battlefield. A stab of telepathic noise forced the monster’s mind to brace, and though the Queen resisted, the attack revealed that the spider-thing, unlike a spider, had a mind to affect. The kalashtar’s next move was a simple assault that shut off the Queen’s waking consciousness. Nemanji stepped up and with his enormous club, swatted the arachnid horror toward a suddenly manifested gash in the fabric of space, where demonic hands emerged to drag her into their blasphemous world.
Perhaps this might have proved distressing to Kor’lec, but he was too busy thanking Monica for doing the impossible. The archeologist had successfully coaxed a forgotten magic from ancient, buried relic. She had broken Ieana’s hold on Kai. The velociraptor was free at last!