Pharast 27, 4713 (morning, House of Withered Blossoms)
We’ve taken the top tier of the pagoda, though we had to torch it until it was a blackened, hollow shell to do it. I am ashamed to admit that I was almost no help at all. I just could not make myself go into that hole knowing what was in there. That may have saved my life. These weren’t just giant spiders and they weren’t in there alone: shadows descended on my friends as soon as they entered. The poison they were ready for, but the life-draining touch of the shades took them by surprise and they were forced to retreat back to the roof. Olmas and Radella looked particularly shaken up. What if I had been down there? Would I even have made it out?
This thing I have—you can call it a fear or a phobia or a repulsion, as all of those fit—it goes back to when we still visited my grandparents in Korvosa. Their home is on the slope in Midland and it overlooks the docks and this strip of the Shingles that runs along the waterfront towards High Bridge. The shanties are a haven for spiders. Sometimes I would see them scuttling from rooftop to rooftop, darting in and out of the shacks people up there used as crude homes. One night when we were out just a little too late, a little too separated from the main crowds, two of them dropped in front of us. Mom skewered one and a city guard who just happened to be in the right place at the right time drove off the other, but not before dad was bitten. I completely froze in terror. That sort of thing sticks with you when you’re only ten years old.
We actually have worse—much worse—in Magnimar. Three-eyed, and three feet tall, the shriezyx are nasty, mean, and aggressive, which, given what I know about the runelords that supposedly created them was probably the whole point. It makes me shudder when I think about it, but fortunately they don’t make it up to the surface very often so, out of sight, out of mind, right? Also, the guard has had plenty of experience dealing with them so those that do make it up are handily dispatched (though the real trick is not burning the city down in the process).
A quick search through one of our tomes told us a little more about what we were dealing with here: aranea, a sort of half-human, half-spider hybrid that can assume the form of either one. They have quickly risen to the top of my list of most disgusting creatures. We’ve seen a lot of vile creatures, of course, but there’s something about a human/spider shapeshifter that just isn’t right. I mean, this shouldn’t even be a thing. Who thought this was a good idea?
And we’re still not done here. There’s—
If you want to have nightmares, try watching someone slowly burn to death. Not in flames, but blackening like a roast in an oven. Gods. Spiders or not, it’s a terrible thing.
We drove the surviving aranea to the floor below. Qatana and Ivan lit the webs underneath us; I hovered over the hole in the floor, draping it in a spell that suppressed magic in order to limit their options. That’s when I saw they were grouped just a little too tightly.
I had to keep the opening covered with my spell, which meant I was staring down at them. It was my decision to encircle them with a curtain of fire. Mine. Trapped in a furnace that they couldn’t escape, and unable to penetrate the suppression field, they were helpless to do anything but be picked off and turn to ash.
The man I saw the night before was the only one of them left. He put up quite a fight, but from what we can tell he was so high on opium that he didn’t really have a good grasp of what was happening. We tried to get him—and the other aranea before they burned—to surrender, but apparently we said the wrong thing because he became convinced we were allied with the hobgoblins and oni “down below”. We haven’t even seen a down below, but we also haven’t seen any hobgoblins so maybe that’s the why. From his semi-coherent ramblings we got a view of the larger picture of this place: the spider things hold the towers and the hobgoblins and oni dwell underneath.
Held the towers.
That may be premature. We aren’t done. Dasi senses more sentience in the floors below us. He says some feel like the minds of people who are trapped here, while the others exude a malevolence that suggests they’re the captors. And almost certainly more spiders.
There is ash everywhere. We have completely burned out the top half of the pagoda. I’d feel bad about that but the aranea were not exactly kind to it, themselves. They tore out floors, stripped the walls and rebuilt the interior as a gauntlet leading up to their den. I can’t imagine trying to take this place from the ground floor. But I guess that was the whole point. The oni can’t leave, and the hobgoblins can’t fly, so it was an effective defense.
Obviously, they never anticipated an assault from above.