Utig charged forward, a whirlwind of axe blades and profanities, careening from the walls as he hurled himself at the swarm of spiders that had descended upon them.
“I fucking, hate, spiders.” He yelled, his axe a blur as he cleaved the creatures in two. With an average size of three foot each, the spiders shouldn’t have been a problem, well, aside from their numbers. The corridor ahead was heaving with them.
“Do you think, do you think we should help him?” Havia asked as she plunged her dagger into a stray spider that had climbed past the devastation being caused by the barbarian.
“Give him a minute to get it out of his system, then I’ll go in.” Antios said as he sliced cleanly through the head of another stray arachnid.
“He’s a force of nature, especially when he really hates something, and I’m not getting anywhere near that axe while he’s swinging it like that.”
Another spider had dropped down behind the barbarian and Antios was stepping slowly towards it, sword raised, ready to thrust into its carapace.
Havia looked back up the stairs, the darkness above them was suffocating. Moments after they had entered the stairwell the sound of grinding stone had surrounded them. She had gone back to examine the entrance only to find the way blocked, the stairs ending at a ceiling of thick, unrelenting stone. They were well and truly trapped in this dungeon now.
“Well, at least he’s heading in the right direction.” Quink added, placing a hand on Havia’s shoulder before stepping off the last step and looking down at the viscous black goop left behind by the recently deceased spiders.
“Er, I think we should help him now.” She added pointing past the whirling barbarian at the mass of spiders that filled the corridor.
In the distance, at the edges of their torch light. Like a wolf circling its prey, a larger set of shining eyes watched as the barbarian decimated the brood.
A loud clicking resonated around the stone corridor and the swarm began undulating like a wave, before retreating into the darkness at the far end.
“Quink, can you shed a little more light on the situation?” Antios asked, Quink smiled mischievously before gesturing in front of herself. It looked like a simple child’s game of counting fingers, this is the church, here is the steeple. But the aura of magic that manifested around her was anything but childish, it coiled from her hands like glitter filled smoke. Floating up to caress the ceiling of the corridor, and within an instant a light emanated from the stone itself. It wasn’t blinding, it was practical, a flat light that revealed the length of the corridor and the room beyond. In one corner of the high ceiling a large web structure could now be clearly seen, here the now decimated swarm of spiders huddled, watching, as their mother lowered herself into the corridor before Utig.
As big as a bear, its collection of many dark eyes nestled amongst its furry head as viscous green ichor dripped from its razor-sharp fangs. Disturbingly long legs twitched as they touched the corridor floor, the matriarch chattered and clicked as she eyed Utig, and the rest of them, with its obsidian black orbs.
Carrion spiders were known to grow large in dungeons, often as big as a small dog but occasionally twice that. Normally attacking adventurers when they slept, using their numbers to overpower and drag their victims off for the brood to devour over time. A tale of horror, ensuring any party worth its salt would set a watch, check the corners, no one wants to be food for spiders, they can keep you alive for months as they slowly consume you.
This one was clearly different.
“Well, ain’t you a big bitch.” Utig said, coming to his senses as his immediate threat receded to reveal the new and improved threat, with bigger teeth.
“You know what they say about the bigger they are.” Antios said stepping forward.
“Leave them for the spell caster?” Utig finished, glancing over his shoulder.
“Fuck you darling.” Quink responded, it did genuinely sound affectionate.
“I mean, I could fill this corridor with fire, but I think we might be at risk If I let that particular spell loose.” She smiled wider; it was not reassuring.
“Nah, we got this, haven’t we Utig.” Antios nudged the ichor drenched barbarian with his elbow.
“You smell dreadful, by the way.” He looked Utig up and down before returning to face the giant spider, quivering above its thick, hairy, legs that reached out to stroke both sides of the corridor.
She crouched low, ready to pounce forward, and before they could respond, leapt over the two fighters, putting herself firmly in the middle of the party.
“Well shit.” Havia said as the swarm in the corner began advancing on Utig and Antios.
“She’s clever as well, I guess you don’t get this big and old without learning a few tricks.” The rogue reached down to her side, unfastening a silver flask from her belt.
“Well, I have a few tricks too.” She hastily took a mouthful of whatever spirit she had decided to fill it with before they had set out.
“Havia, what are you doing?” Antios shouted as the matriarch lunged forward, intent on biting the rogue in half.
Havia side stepped the spiders head, her alarming speed caught the spider off guard as she stepped in close enough to stroke the fur along its thick carapace. Which for a split second it looked like she would do, before she emptied the rest of her flask onto the spiders back.
Quink saw what she was doing, and, quick as a whip she grabbed their bags and started climbing back up the stairs as far as she could.
Havia, still holding a torch in her other hand, waved it in front of the matriarch’s gleaming eyes, forcing her to step back toward the weapon wielding fighters.
“Clear the swarm, Havia has this bitch sorted.” Quink shouted over the increasing sound of clicking and furious scurrying.
Utig had already started swinging at the remaining spiders, stepping further away from their mother, Antios watched nervously for a second before joining him, dispatching one after another as they stepped further from the giant spider at their back.
Havia grinned, she had stepped back from the matriarch, enough to doge her legs as they shuffled around. Her mouth was still full, as the matriarch raised up on its back four legs, filling the corridor with shadow as it prepared for another lunge.
But, instead of charging or biting at Havia, the matriarch spat a gooey mass of green-black ooze from its fangs, hitting Havia square in the chest, coating her armour, just as the rogue bought the torch close to her face, ignoring the attack and waving the flames dramatically before the monstrous spider. In the flickering light it was a thing of bizarre beauty, its sodden carapace shone a deep blue beneath tough black fur, its legs dappled with hints of orange and red throughout its fur. Havia breathed in deeply through her nose and spewed forth the spirits she held in her mouth. As it met the torch it became a shower of flames, hurtling towards the matriarch. Instinctively the spider tried to jump, to dodge the flames, not realising that the fluid all over its back and sides would catch at the slightest contact.
The squeal was deafening in the confined space. Havia leaped backwards to avoid the ball of flames that the matriarch had suddenly become, as a wave of heat flooded the corridor.
The spider beat itself against the walls growing increasingly erratic, flailing out with flame engulfed legs. In response her young went into a frenzy, only to be met by Utig’s fury and Antios’ precision.
Havia was caught by one of the legs and thrown against the corridor wall. Her breath leaving her instantly. Quink appeard suddenly, dragging her out of the way of the flailing bonfire that used to be the matriarch.
And then it was over, the corridor had become a furnace, and now, as the heat subsided, the stink of burned fur filled every corner. The coolness returned with force. The sight of the matriarch, squealing pitifully, a burned curled mass, was sickening to behold.
Antios stepped forward, putting his sword just above the many, now glassy, eyes, he thrust swiftly and the creatures suffering ended.
“I think we should get out of here as quickly as possible.” He eyed the webbing in the high corner of the corridor.
“I think we got them all, but you never know.” He said as he casually took a rag from his belt to wipe the black, tar-like blood from his sword.
Havia, still stood near the matriarchs coiled corpse, was tearing at her armour, swearing profusely.
“Shit, owe, fuck, fuck fuuuck.” She threw her leather chest piece to the ground, it steamed where the spider’s venom had hit it, burning like acid. In the centre the leather had become a bubbling mass. Havia had turned her back to the others, washing her chest down with water from a skin.
“Well, that sucks.” She said, as she toed the now useless leather armour, water dripping around her.
‘Can we find somewhere to rest, maybe check out that other piece of armour we found?” She asked, one eyebrow raised as she fastened her jacket closed over her now sodden tunic.
“Let’s see what the next room has to offer. For now, let’s avoid breathing flames on anything and maybe take it slow for a while?” Antios grinned as he fished Havia’s flask from off the floor near the spider and handed it back to her.
“I think there’s some stuff in here.” Utig said, standing in the doorway with his axe raised above his head as he poked the spider’s nest.
“I think I can catch my axe in it, pull it down for us to look at.”
Quink carefully walked down the corridor, avoiding puddles of goop, and looked up at Utig.
“Sure, but you are washing everything you are wearing before you come anywhere near me.” She looked him up and down before sticking her head through the doorway and examining the next chamber.
“This looks like a decent place to rest for a minute, Havia, throw me the cuirass we found upstairs, I’ll check it out before you sling it on.” She stepped out of view as Antios and Havia picked up the backpacks and made their way over.
“I guess a carrion spider that big would scare most of anything else away from this part of the dungeon. We should be able to rest up here and then tackle the rest of this floor.” The fighter stepped through the doorway into the large chamber beyond, two archways led out on opposing walls to the left and right, the far wall had a tiled mural of a serene valley, at its centre a hill with a small cottage nestled amongst the trees.
“Well, that’s quaint, I don’t think I’ve seen art in a dungeon before?” Havia commented as she followed Antios in.
Utig screamed shrilly behind them, but soon went quiet as he killed the last of the spiders. Everyone laughed as he stomped at the swarm of tiny red and black dots that tried to flee the webbing as he dragged it to the ground with a thump. He stomped a little more than needed before feeling safe enough to examine the remains of the nest.
“Little bug-eyed shits, think I got them all?” He exclaimed. “Not much in here though, couple of daggers, a coin purse, lots of bones. Looks like it’s been a while since they’d had a decent meal.” He joined the others in the chamber, dropping the daggers and coin purse in front of Havia before sitting down next to his backpack. He pulled out some linens, wetting them from his water skin before he began to wipe goop from off his axe, then his furs.
Quink watched amused for a moment before gesturing at him with a playful wiggle of her fingers. The ichor began to shake itself off his armour and from out of his fur, even his hair and beard were quickly cleaned.
“That’s handy” Antios noted as he arranged himself with his back to the tiled wall, fishing in his backpack for some dried meat.
“It’s called presta… something. A cantrip of some kind, I forget I have it sometimes. The major drawback of an unorthodox education in magic is not really knowing everything in your repertoire. I really should start a spell book or something.” She shrugged and sat next to Utig, also fishing in her small backpack for some food.
“Chuck me that leather and I will see if it has any curses etc on it.” She said to Havia, who was examining the daggers that Utig had dropped in front of her. She fumbled with the straps of her backpack to release the leather cuirass tied to the front, getting up to put it down in front of the mage, along with the coin purse.
“More for the party’s funds, I think it’s all gold.” She said as the purse made a healthy chink hitting the floor.
“Do you remember when Utig put on those gloves we found a few dungeons ago? We didn’t check them for magic, and then he couldn’t take them off until we got them disenchanted.” She laughed as she returned to her pack and sat down.
“Nothing scarier than a barbarian with fabulous silk gloves on, as he’s about to cleave you in two.” Antios laughed, rocking back slightly against the tiled wall.
“It wasn’t funny guys, those things were awful, they made me weaker, and I could hear voices, worst find ever.” He couldn’t help but grin as the others laughed, Quink patted his knee.
“Don’t worry honey, I will check everything we find, before anyone puts it on.” The mage laid out the chest piece and placed her hands on it, focusing quietly few a few minutes while everyone else ate and drank.
While they waited Antios turned to examine the Muriel.
“You know, this looks kind of familiar.” He said, pointing at the hills and the small cottage in the middle.
“Reminds me of Chelis, but without the town. If that makes sense.” Havia had walked over beside him, she was flipping one of the new daggers in her hand.
“See, there’s where the blacksmith is now, next to the stream. That hill is where they built the sheriffs house, and that cottage would be where the sage lives.” She pointed with the tip of the dagger, sweeping across the wall like she was teaching geography.
“In fact, I would say it’s definitely the same valley.” Havia asserted, out of everyone in the party she was the best with maps, her sense of direction, even in the dark, was almost perfect.
“Well, maybe Meridath was born there?” Antios speculated, finishing his few strips of jerky.
“So, do we sleep here or find a room with less points of attack?” He asked as he sat down to finish cleaning his gear.
“Well, we know the spiders were a deterrent, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get attacked if we sleep, they must have been eating something right?” Havia said. Placing the new daggers next to Quink, the street mage was shaking her fingers and rolling her shoulders as she finished her assessment of the leathers.
“You’re going to like this, no curse, and I think the magics imbued within make you quieter, stealthier. Perfect for you.” She smiled up at Havia who proceeded to pick up the leathers.
“Nice, thanks Quink, do you think you can check those before I throw them at something and find myself stabbed in the back.” She said pointing at the daggers.
“Later, after a sleep I think, if that’s ok? I’m a bit washed out today.” Quink admitted before finding her own supply of dried meat and taking a dainty bite. She winked at Havia before chewing animatedly.
“No rush, I can scout the corridors briefly, see if anywhere fits our criteria for a camp.” As Antios nodded at her she stripped off her jacket to put the new leather over her shirt, fastening the ties at her side. At first it appeared a tad too large, but the leathers quickly moulded themselves to Havia’s slender shape. She quickly put back on her jacket and made her way out of the northern most corridor. It was eerie how quietly she moved and Antios pitied anything she might sneak up on. Havia was very dangerous when she put her mind to it.
“Don’t go too far.” He called quietly down the corridor after Havia, before turning and looking at the rest of his friends, soon his eyes were drawn back to the mural on the wall.
“This dungeon is weird, no knowing what we’re going to stumble across.” He said casually, smiling as Quink and Utig leaned against each other, the barbarian refusing to turn his back on the now empty spider’s nest.