pathfinder: beyond the vale

Part 5: Self-inflicted Injuries

 Eyes widening and skin prickling with sweat, Cirice took a few stumbling steps back from the encroaching wave of spiders while Trick darted away behind the trio, and more importantly, the protective bulk of the bear. He watched the spiders warily from the shadow of one of the beast’s great legs. The bear likewise eyed the swarm nervously, knowing intuitively that this behaviour from the massed arachnids was an affront to nature. The tiny usually inaudible sounds of individual spiders accumulated to create a growing, chittering, roar.

 “Look out!” Cirice shouted, but Duriel and Garren had already seen them and were backing away too.

 She raised her hands and tried to push aside her fear and disgust as she made a complicated arcane gesture with her fingers. A bolt of blue electricity leapt into the spider swarm, but the fell energies were quickly conducted away among the countless tiny bodies, proving disappointingly ineffectual against them.

 Garren, having a similar idea, launched a gob of boiling acid into their midst with his neat magical gesture. The acid splashed into the swarm and a vile stench of boiling chitinous flesh filled the air as the acid reaped a great toll in spider lives. The swarm was all but destroyed and the creatures that remained had lost their impetus and scattered into the many dank corners of the cave.

 “Well done, Garren!” Shouted Cirice with relief as she wiped sweat from her brow. She was afraid of spiders and had to admit that at least part of her almost compulsive ritual of daily household cleaning in her little house in the woods, was an effort to prevent spiders nesting.

 The group collected themselves and prepared to haul the box of tools down to the cave floor below the ledge on which they stood. Cirice, who was taller than the rest, scrambled down and prepared to receive the box from Duriel who carefully lowered it to her. She wiped her sweating hands on her dress and reached up as Duriel lowered it with caution. “Careful” he said softly, “it’s heavy” She nodded. Slowly she turned, gripping the heavy box tightly, and carefully picked her way between the fallen Kobolds to place the box near to the makeshift barricade.

When she turned back around, Garren and Duriel had already climbed down. They followed a different branch of the cavern structure to try and find the other of the supposedly “cursed” boxes. Cirice was less inclined to be dismissive of Kobold curses now that they had had to fight off the swarm of spiders, so she cast her glance about trying to find signs of other swarms hidden in the furthest shadows of the cave, dimly illuminated by the lights dancing about Garren’s head.

 They climbed down onto a lower section of the cave floor and spotted the other box of tools, festooned with spider webs.

 As they approached, they heard a tell-tale skittering of another swarm but this time they were ready! Garren and Cirice quickly loosed twin globs of acid at the swarm approaching from a higher ledge in front of them. They laughed in self-congratulation as the swarm was destroyed utterly by the magically summoned corrosive fluids. Then, with a suddenness that made Cirice’s heart skip a beat, a shadow flitted at the edge of her vision. She leapt back with a shriek of horror as a gigantic spider, three feet across, bungeed down from the unseen cave heights, right behind Garren.

 The creature made a high-pitched squeal as its spastically writhing limbs reached for Garren, and before he could raise a hand to his defence the terrifying creature had sunk its fangs into his back. He cried out in pain and terror as his bear lumbered to his aid ready to swing its murderous claws at the monstrous arachnid.

 The spider held on to Garren with its forelegs, waiting for its venom to paralyse him and angled its repulsive many eyed face at Cirice where she had backed away towards the cave wall. Meanwhile Cirice had unslung the crossbow from her back, and exceedingly grateful that it was already loaded, took aim, and pulled the trigger. Simultaneously, with a great hiss as its maw opened wide, the spider launched its own projectile in the form of a rapidly expanding web of sticky white fibres. Cirice, was pinned to the wall but she had already shot her bolt which leapt through empty air and buried itself in the creature’s exoskeleton with a sickening crunch setting it spinning at the end of its line which it still gripped with its rear legs.

The bear reacted to the sudden movement by batting at the creature with its claws. The spider held on to its line for grim death as the bear batted it from one paw to the other knocking loose fragments of cracked chitin from the wounded creature as it bellowed an ear-splitting roar. Under the barrage of blows the spider eventually succumbed and fell to lay broken and twitching on the cave floor. Cirice watched intently as its feeble twitches became less frequent and finally, stopped, while at length her racing heart calmed. Barely suppressed shudders shook her body. She was wet through and the stench of fear sweat rising in her nostrils made her clamp her elbows to her sides. Trick gnawed at the sticky strands and with his help she pushed herself free.

 Garren was kneeling nearby and trying to attend to his own wound. “Let me help you with that”, she said. Her voice came out quaveringly.

 “No need, I think I’ve got a hold of the wretched thing’s fang. I just need to pull it out.” She looked at his wounded back and heaved in disgust while he reached around trying to pull at the three-inch-long fang embedded in his back. Unseen to Garren, some sort of sac was still attached to the horrid thing and despite her protests he was determined to try and extract it himself…

 “No need to make a fuss” he said. “There it is!” His fingertips brushed the venom sac which was oozing a bright yellow viscous fluid. His small fingers closed around it and he gripped it tightly ready to yank on the thing, but the pressure disgorged the remaining venom deep into the heart of his wound. With a little gasp he fell flat on his face and promptly stopped breathing, causing the magically sustained lights to wink out and plunging the cavern into darkness.

 “Noo!” Cirice cried out. She waved a hand to create lights of her own and quickly knelt beside him in the bluish light. She turned him face up, disturbed by the lightness and thinness of his body, insubstantial and childlike. Her hands scrabbled about his deathly pale face uselessly as she started to cry. His eyes were already beginning to glaze over, and she didn’t know what she should do to help him. She subsided into choking sobs and couldn’t form words as Duriel pushed her out of the way as gently as he could.

 “Out of the way girl, let me look at him!” there was a brittle edge to his voice.

“Duriel turned him face down and pulled up the little man’s shirt to get a better look at his wound. With a quick decisiveness that Cirice would, ever after, be profoundly grateful for he bent his lips to Garren’s unmoving body and began to suck the venom from his wound.

 He coughingly spat out the foul yellow fluid and gasped, even as he turned Garren over again and lay him flat. Duriel pulled open the neck of Garren’s little green shirt and lifted his chin to open his airway. He wiped the last of the yellow venom from burnt lips with the back of his sleeve while he pinched the halfling’s nose shut with his left hand. He filled his lungs with air, locked his mouth over Garren’s and blew mightily into his unconscious mouth making his chest inflate alarmingly.

 Cirice stared with bemused respect. This was not any kind of medicine she knew; she knew herbs and natural ingredients and strange obeisances to wild spirits, not this bizarre, invasive, manual rite. Duriel breathed into Garren’s lungs a second time, a little less deeply than the first, and then sat upright. Now he pushed on Garren’s chest, with one hand atop the other, rhythmically pumping his ribcage. “I hope I didn’t hurt him. My lungs are a bit bigger than his” he mumbled. Cirice was speechless.

 After Duriel has repeated this strange ritual a couple of times, suddenly Garren came coughing and spluttering awake and a surge of relief came over Cirice like she had never felt before and almost before he had had a chance to sit up and draw breath, she was crushing it out of him with a desperate embrace. Duriel laughed and then gently pushed her away to give Garren chance to breathe.

 “What the hells! Don’t ever scare me like that ever again!” she said wiping her eyes and sniffling to clear her tear swollen nose.

“Thanks, Duriel. I feel much better now. Shall we be going?” Garren tried to hop up as if nothing had happened, but he looked ghastly. “I know what” he said. He performed a ritual movement of his hand and a soothing green light washed over him, melting away his wounds and leaving his flesh unbroken and unsullied. The colour quickly returned to his face.

They look at him incredulously. “Why didn’t you do that in the first place, instead of poisoning yourself to death?!” Cirice screeched.

“I didn’t want to waste a spell unnecessarily” he said cheerfully as he turned away to pick up his things. In a demonstration of subtle prescience, Duriel took a step forward, between them, and placed a hand on Cirice’s elbow. This arrested her forward momentum, where she, holding her staff in two hands, had been seized by a monetary violent impulse…

“Shhh” he said soothingly and placed his other hand on hers. “Would you like me to show you how to do that?” she nodded, her cheeks burning. “Ok” he said. “I might not be there the next time he tries to kill himself…” she laughed and wrapped her arms around the dwarf and buried her face in his neck for a few moments.

They collected their things together and took the second box back to the barricade. Cirice politely knocked on the cart as if it were a door and waited a few seconds before calling out in Draconic.

“We’ve found the boxes. Let us out, please” she said with an impish grin. The barrage of hisses and clicks, were wholly unintelligible to Garren and Duriel.

The kobold’s way of saying “please” always made her smile. It roughly translated into the common tongue as, “if it costs you no grubs.” This was because Kobolds measured value in the plentifulness of food stuffs and the underground dwelling creatures often farmed, and sometimes traded in, edible grubs.

The cart was rolled back, and they emerged carrying the boxes of tools that the Kobolds had stolen.

“Now you go! Take boxes!” The Kobold chieftain wasn’t wasting time with pleasantries.

They returned to the clearing with the boxes. Duriel and Cirice loaded the tools onto the huge wagon which had been loaded with wood by the woodcutters ready for the return journey to falcon’s hollow, before the sprites had struck and killed them all. Garren searched for the missing horses, which he was somewhat surprised to find alive and well in a nearby clearing, having somehow avoided being attacked by local predators.

When Garren returned they hitched the horses to the wagon and performed subdued but respectful burial rites for the fallen woodcutters. Better here, than back at Falcon’s hollow, where the bereaved families would have to look at their partially predated remains.

Then, when they were ready, they drove the cart back to the town.

The guards at the gate were a little surprised to see them but moved quickly to open the tall wooden gates.

Once inside, Payden wasted no time in reclaiming his assets and had taken command of the cart and horses and sent them off to eat and rest.

Cirice had immediately suggested they go for round two at the Jak’o’Napes which Duriel and Garren readily agreed to, if only because she was so insistent. She was somewhat less greedy this time around, however, and nursed a single mug of ale the whole first hour they were there, but after gentle coercion agreed to a second which went down a little more easily.

This time, Cirice noticed Duriel go to the bar and ask Jak for some raw eggs with a somewhat conspiratorial air. He paid for them and slipped them into his pockets. She wondered what he was planning to do with them, but he didn’t take them out at the table, nor did he mention having bought them.

They returned to the little house and were seized by a collective flood of relief that they had faced danger together and come back, largely unscathed, to return to their, for now at least, home.

Duriel said with a cheeky sparkle in his eye. “Those creeps in the Sitting Duck wanted you to dance on the table for them, didn’t they?” she nodded with a sour look. “Why don’t you dance on the table for yourself?” a smile grew on her face and she climbed up on to the table using one of the dining chairs.

“Come on up” she said. “I’m not going to act the fool all by myself!” So, the three of them, feeling ridiculous, but just drunk enough to do it anyway, danced for joy on the wooden tabletop.

“I’ve seen people on fire move better than that!” said Cirice, tears of laughter streaming down her face, at Duriel’s clumsy dancing.

“We can’t all move like bloody prancing deer” he said, laughing too until his sides hurt.

Cirice was offered, and graciously accepted the one bed while both Duriel and Garren said they preferred to sleep under the stars. As she went to sleep, Cirice couldn’t remember feeling this happy, and right now, she didn’t miss her little house in the woods at all.