Hearts of Stone

Episode 5: The Tomb of Iskelet

Having disposed of the drow and their spiders in one way or another, the group conducts a thorough search of the complex.

Ssh'ta begins playing his flute softly, and wanders into one of the "spider stables" where he finds a cluster of four webbed bodies. These turn out to be local peasants – charcoal burners and the like – lacking both treasure and interest, so he leaves them be. The Fox discovers one holdout spider, which webs him, but Dave kills it outright with a well-placed arrow. X7-09 ransacks the drow bunkroom, finding socks (which Dave appropriates), a few silver pieces, some soap – the sort of thing you might take with you on a short camping trip. Kowalski loots what they have taken to calling the "officer's quarters", finding one blank notebook (which he will later give to Dave, who will later still give it back) and another book written in elvish script, which he does not read (and which Dave will acquire later). X7-09 enters the evil shrine, where he finds a dwarf-made axe whose blade is buried in the stone altar. He pries it loose and wanders up to join Hayes, who is still in conversation with the king skeleton, Iskelet. Hayes berates him for bringing the axe, and orders him to put it back; he attempts to do so, but snaps the haft – as no-one sees this, he puts it carefully down on the altar and walks off. Except for Kowalski, the party regroups in the entrance chamber and readies themselves to leave. Kowalski can be seen approaching the king skeleton and engaging it in conversation, but he is too far away and speaking too low for anyone to catch what is said.

Outside, it is raining again. Dave collects up some bedclothes as improvised protection for Casila, whose court finery is not holding up well under the night's events. Hayes donates some clothing and leather armour he liberated from dead drow earlier. And they set off back to the inn, mindful that it is nearly midnight and they have a caravan to catch in the morning.

They are walking back through the woods when they discover they have a stranger in their midst, a well-dressed man wearing a fox mask and two rapiers. He begins to glow, and those nearest to him – Dave, Ssh'ta and Chitter Chitter Fang Fang the drow riding spider – find themselves reliving their worst memories. Chitter webs this stranger while Ssh'ta shoots an arrow at him; he falls, apparently unconscious and paralysed, and Dave takes advantage of this to set fire to him. However, freshly-exuded and sticky spiderweb does not burn well. Chitter is not the most introspective of creatures, and picks up the body to eat later. In the absence of further orders, she takes up residence in a nearby tree. Dave stands watching.

Ssh'ta, stung by who knows what vile reverie, runs off into the forest. Hayes feels no loyalty to anyone in the party, and stomps off towards the caravanserai, using a smouldering turnip to light the way. X7-09 follows, and after a short hesitation, so does Soreth. Dave doesn't fancy the idea of a night alone in the woods, so cajoles Chitter down out of her tree, and they pick up the trail as well, Chitter carrying the webbed and unconscious stranger. Back at the inn, they settle in for the night, Dave and Chitter in the stables (the latter scaring the horses more than somewhat), the stranger webbed to the ceiling, and everyone else in their rooms.

Comes the dawn, and everyone is awoken by the bustle of a merchant caravan getting ready to depart. Late arrivals have brought packages; Ssh'ta leaps down from the roof (where he has spent the night after tracking the party back here) and takes possession of an adorable wolf cub, sent to him as a present by a so-far secret admirer. Hayes takes possession of a letter from the Archmage addressed to "the Fox"; this proves to be written in Draconic, and Soreth offers to translate later. The looted weapons are sold to an arms merchant in the caravan.

Meanwhile, the webbed stranger in the stables calls: "I am Alron Stormwatcher, nobleman of the Dragon Empire and agent of the Archmage! I demand that you get me down from here!" The stable boy flees, and returns shortly with three caravan guards. These decide that fighting a giant spider hand-to-hand for possession of a nobleman is not in their job description, but brighten when they realise they can get bows and shoot the blighter from safety. Dave orders the spider to lower Alron to the ground, where he is quickly cut free. A debate ensues over whether Dave and Chitter can join the convoy – on the one hand, Dave is a drow, and nobody really trusts drow, their spiders even less so. On the other, Dave does have a valid ticket.

Hayes resolves the problem by playing dice with the guards, staking Dave's right to follow the caravan at a distance against their meagre coinage. He wins, and Dave and Chitter are granted permission to follow at a distance, while Hayes pockets the two silver the guards had between them. Hayes demands as payment the book in elvish from Dave, who currently has it; she declines to hand it over.

Alron, AKA the Fox, soon learns that there was a letter for him from the Archmage, but not where it is currently. And in this state, the caravan sets off; it's two days across open country to Twisp, and then eight days to Concord, the first four through wooded hills. If there's any trouble en route, that's where it'll be.

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