The trek through the Silent Forest was nerve-wracking. What followed was terrifying: lashed to the back of the great spiders, which then leapt from stalagmite to stalagmite, then leaping higher, into the jagged fanged forest of stalactites along the cavern’s roof, hundreds of feet above. Pysk hissed a chuckle at the cries from the group, trailing behind him, my companions bound in place across a spider’s back just as Sera and I were.
No longer sure which way “up” and “down” were, I shut my eyes and tried not to imagine what would happen if the great spider missed its hairy footing.
The pack split, at some predetermined point, Pysk leading the three other spiders bearing us off towards the cleft in the cavern wall, while another four angled towards the flickering reddish light opposite, which we’d been told was the entrance to the mine holding well over a dozen halfling and gnomish slaves.
Our bone-jarring ride slowed, and then stopped, the great spider chittering in response to a similar clucking from its rider.
Its abdomen heaved, and then there was a sickening lurch as all eight of its legs let go the stalactite.
There was no fall, and I think that, above all (if you will pardon the pun) is what caused my stomach to flip. I could feel the gentlest of breezes, and see a swirling in the smoky haze that hung above the dwarven minehold growing ever so slowly closer. Looking up — or, would that have been to the side? — I could see the other spiders, descending just as slowly, a stray, red-tinged silvery gleam the only sign of the silken thread playing out, the only thing keeping us from a quick death from too long a fall.
Sera’s relief at having her feet back on solid ground nearly overwhelmed me, as it bubbled up my arm through the bracelet.
We huddled in the shadows of what looked to be an abandoned smithy, close to the wall of the cavern, a stone’s throw from the wide crack in the wall. Strange, yellowish globes hung from tall posts, keeping back the gloom of the tunnel, illuminating what looked like two long rows of metal set parallel to each other, stretching away into the distance. I thought it an odd way to demarcate a road. The metal bars sat atop large wooden planks, each spaced a good three or four steps apart: hardly ideal for a raised walkway.
“Remember our deal,” Pysk said.
“A hundred count, after you begin your climb, and then we provide some distraction,” Gilliam said, not even trying to hide his grin.
“The wood of those outbuildings is very old, very dry,” Sera noted. “It will burn bright and fierce.” She scanned the other shacks clustered near the long hall. “Those others will have to go as well, if you wish for the distraction to last.”
I shivered, at her cold, calculated assessment of the destruction.
“I can keep the fires burning as long as you need them,” Aurora said, her fingers straying to the red gems in her bracers. In response to her touch, a brief pulse of orange-gold light glimmered in the depths of one of the stones.
Pysk gave a short nod, and then sketched a bow before turning and leaping atop his giant spider. A chittering cluck, and the creature began scaling the gossamer thread on which we’d descended.
Varis began a slow, steady count, and I felt Sera tamp down her emotions, slowing her breathing to match the warrior’s cadence. My fingertips itched as the weaver opened herself up to the Sphere of Energy, and saw, dimly, reddish threads of power flickering to life, swirling around her fingers to concentrate into an ever growing ball in each of her palms.
At count fifty, I felt the slightest twinge of unease from the girl, and she bit her lip, sharpening her concentration. I knew, somehow, that she was at her limit, but she kept drawing in threads, winding them tighter. Sweat broke out on both our brows, and while I couldn’t help but feel a flutter of panic, the emotion coursing through the connection from Sera was anything but fear. It was a hot, fierce excitement.
At count sixty-five, her breathing quickened. Her nerves felt stretched taut as a tanning hide, and I held my breath, for fear of the slightest distraction disrupting her concentration and igniting her weave before she could hurl it.
At count seventy-seven, the front of the great stone manor house along the rear of the cavern exploded with a thunderous roar, hurling chunks of burning stone into and over the manor’s short curtain wall. More flaming debris showered down from a higher arc, landing amidst the clusters of the ramshackle township outside the manor’s wall.
Kurest Hurgon began to burn without our help.