The handspiders had been doing a pretty good job of keeping the place vermin-free for the past several thousand years. If we were thinking of using this as a remote base of operations I thought it might be a good idea to capture one of them rather than destroying them all, and the others agreed.
We were fairly certain there were some of them in the last room. Sure enough, when Dragda opened the door four of them rushed out at her. They might not be very sturdy, but they’re certainly quick! We made short work of three of them – Dragda crushed one, Keller blasted another with a spell and Fungdark picked one off with a well placed arrow. The third one was tripped with a whip, entangled in a cloak and finally bundled into a cooking pot for our later study.
The room itself was a sort of workroom, with clay cylinder tomes and all the trappings of a small lab. A pile of red grit on the floor indicated that someone had spent a great deal of time destroying some of the old books. The dead goblin in the corner was a late addition to the decor, and something of a distraction especially because Fungdark would occasionally give it a casual stab in an off-hand way.
Fungdark and Keller told us about something strange which had happened to them in the instants before the battle with the handspiders. The two of them had suddenly found themselves in a different building – a strange parallel to this place – where the only living things were a swarm of rats and a strange, spectral butler which cleaned up the corpses of the vermin when Keller and Fugndark were attacked. Dragda and I hadn’t noticed a thing, but it would explain where Keller’s new staff and Fungdark’s joke book came from. It might also explain where Sirette had vanished to…
Our earlier explorations had been cursory, mostly to get the layout of the place and to make sure there were no lurking threats. Fungdark and Dragda set out to make a more careful search of the building while Keller and I got to work seeing what we could learn from the remains of the handspiders. We confirmed that they were constructs, carved from bone and enhanced with a necromantic aura. They were small and simple, with very limited capabilities. We theorized that they were likely controlled by some external object of power – something which could be used to change their behaviour.
At this point Dragda and Fungdark returned. They had found a small hole in the floor and a couple more handspiders had crawled up out of it while they were watching. Fortunately, the critters were quickly disposed of and the hole was blocked with an upside-down table. The four of us decided to regroup for the search and see if we could find whatever it is that would let us control the remaining guardians.
Careful searching without the benefit of Sirette’s expertise was a bit nervewracking. Most of the nicer rooms and a few of the not-quite-so-nice rooms had chests and dressers with trapped drawers or lids. We were – for the most part – able to open them without getting blasted with a jet of red mist. Keller was the notable exception, but he was unharmed. As we searched, we also gathered the bodies of the former inhabitants to give them last rites.
There was a fair quantity of coins in the place, but the most ornate room provided some of the most unusual results. The chest by the dresser had a false bottom concealing a couple bottles of potion and a pair of engraved clay cylinders. The potions were Lesser Restoration, but the scrolls were something strange. Keller snagged his finger on a rough edge of one of the cylinders getting it out of the bottom of the trunk. As soon as his blood touched the clay, the cylinder collapsed into shards and Keller got a look of astonishment on his face. He then shocked the rest of us by deliberately jabbing his other hand with a shard and bleeding on the other cylinder, which also crumbled.
He then explained that the first cylinder had given him the ability to temporarily comprehend languages, and that the second had granted him a necromantic touch attack, similar to the power that the handspiders possess. Of course, in order to do that, they had permanently damaged his health.
This didn’t strike the rest of us as the best of bargains, but there was nothing to be done about it now.
With Keller now able to read the clay cylinder tomes, we returned to the workroom. Most of the surviving texts were simple instruction books (herb lore and basic arcane theory) but two of the texts were more in-depth. One of them was an book of oraclular lore that Keller quickly pocketed. The other was a description of the religious rites and practices of their ancient society – useful for last rites for their dead. It also included a mention of the spiritual requirements of their architecture. In order to comply with their strictures, buildings need to be constructed with the walls facing in cardinal directions and the number of doors on the walls must be even.
This meant that either this building was an anomaly, or there was a door that we hadn’t yet found…
Now that we knew what we were looking for, it didn’t take long before we located an entrance to a hidden workshop. The floor was littered with chips and shards of bones, and a large ogre skull with gems in the eyes was perched jauntily on a pedestal, watching the room. A clay cylinder tome was sitting amongst some rags on a table. Keller quickly determined that the tome was a how-to manual on creating and animating handspiders. And that the skull on the pedestal was where the critters went to recharge their chilling touch attack. And that there was a little gold whistle that would start or stop the creatures on their patrol.
Out of an abundance of caution, Dragda decided to put a bag over the skull on the pedestal before we did any more experimentation. Unfortunately, during the process, the skull got bumped and a pair of spiders crawled out of the nose socket… A quick tweet of the whistle sent them back inside, so it looks like things are working correctly. Two tweets will send them back out on patrol. We’re keeping the whistle with us. We still haven’t found Sirette. Dragda doesn’t seem terribly worried, but I’m nervous about how time has been behaving strangely.
At this point I’m preparing to conduct a funeral for the late Merithians – Fungdark and Dragda are digging graves while I’m preparing the bodies. There is one of the original inhabitants of the place who is still around. A young woman in a green toga is trapped in one of the silver mirrors in the bedroom. She looks physically unharmed, but her eyes seem to indicate that she’s in a catatonic state. No surprise considering that she’s been stuck, staring into an empty room for nearly two thousand years. If I can, I’d like to free her and cure her insanity. Unfortunately, I don’t know how she was trapped in there, and without that knowledge, there’s nothing I can think of that would be powerful enough to undo what has been done. Perhaps, in time, I’ll be able to help her regain her freedom.