Along came a spider

The Vulfgrau Trading House is so pleased with the efforts of Sofiya that they are sending her to the large port city of Bornheim to further their efforts of re-establishing their trade routes. A replacement is due to arrive in Ulrichstein to take over the trading post. In addition they are to meet a man they hired that will have special skills and connections in Bornheim.

Unfortunately when the first spring caravan is ready to leave Ulrichstein their replacement has not arrived. So, Sofiya will stay behind with Esandeor to mind the store while Amer, Brizanthamus, and Xarth will continue on with a wagon of goods. Sofiya is glad to have Xarth and Briz gone because they have begun to question what is really happening – Amer can work to keep the truth a secret.

The Last Shield Inn

Steady rains have made the journey through the Elfenwald slow and miserable, but not dangerous. After almost three weeks they reach the eastern bank of the Arawen River where the Last Shield Inn sits on the east bank. This Inn is near the halfway point and controls the only ford over the river for kilometers around.

The owner of this fortified inn is Gerhald, a jovial man who looks like he could be still dangerous in a fight despite his advancing years. Him and his family run the inn and they employ nearly a score of armed me to keep the peace in the area. The Inn is protected by a palisade wall with a eastern gatehouse and a western tower overlooking the ford. It is a formidable location.

Unfortunately the river is too swollen to cross, so the caravan will be staying for a few days until the river goes down. Amer pays extra for his wagon to be kept inside the palisade along with a place in the common room for Xarth and Briz, while he gets a private room for himself.

Over a warm dinner they met up with Rakur Shaleem, the contact from the trading house they were told to expect. Rakur is a Tarakian Islander and while he doesn’t say as much – Amer suspects he is a Talarakian pirate. Rakur invites two friends he has made while waiting for Amer over for dinner as well. They are both trappers that sell their goods to the passing caravans. Aurel is far more talkative, while Ozil passes the meal in silence.

Past Enemies Return

Rakur sleeps outside of the palisade along with most of the caravans. During the night he hears a strangled scream and sees Ozil come out of the forest sheathing a heavy skinning knife. He follows Ozil as he heads to the northern palisade wall. A hidden door opens in the wall and he slips inside. Rakur tries to find the door, but it too cleverly concealed.  Instead he returns to the forest and finds a dead caravan guard – he had been cut up pretty bad with knife wounds on his back, arms, and chest.

Rakur get one of the night watch guards and takes him to the body. The guard then informs his captain and Gerhald. The captain orders his men to bring the body inside, but when they get to the forest the body is gone. Rakur is able to show Gerhald where the secret entrance is located in the palisade and after several minutes he is able to find the hidden catch and open the door. This section of the wall predates Gerhald taking over the inn and he is clearly distressed over a hidden entrance through the wall. Rakur sleeps the rest of the night in the bunkhouse and gets free food and drinks as well in thanks for his help.

While the others are looking around for a missing guard, Rakur corners Ozil. The man does not want to talk, but he eventually relents. He knew the caravan guard is a member of a spider cult that killed his family while he trapping. Before he could finish his tale the “killed” guard walks into the common room fit and hale. Suddenly Ozil winces in pain and collapses – his face turning purple. They manage to stabilize him, but in the confusion the guard slips out of the room.

Briz and Xarth decide to look around the caravans as they have seen that caravan guard before. Amer speaks privately with Gerhald on the front porch, while keeping an eye on his employees. Rakur helps Aurel get Ozil upstairs to a bed. Everyone in the common room saw Xarth and Briz cast magic, so most people have become wary of anyone who is close to them. The Temple of Light has no presence in the inn, but only the foolish mess with magic.

Briz knows the guard in question, his name is Zar and he works for Master Cord – a merchant specializing in ointments and spices. When they talk to Master Cord he calls over a drover (Mark) who knows Zar. The drover believes the tale outlandish but does thank Briz for a most entertaining story. Amer, watching the exchange, notices that the relationship between Cord and Mark seems reversed – Mark is clearly in the superior position.

Briz goes inside of the inn, while Xarth stands outside with Amer. Briz casts his sight around and sees that there are magical threads and spider webs all over the inn. Even worse is the knowledge that these threads are the same as the spider in the Realm of Fire. Briz shouts in alarm, but Amer and Xarth cannot come to help him as the drover is in front of the inn with his merchant’s guards.

Xarth runs out to battle the guards while Amer and the drover circle each other warily. Briz tries to tear apart the webbing spell, but is disrupted with a large man with the body of a spider bursts out from the floor. Xarth gets surrounded, but neither the guards or him and gain an advantage on the other – but he also cannot help Briz. Briz is forced to retreat to the edge of the room as the man-spider is throwing acid from his scepter and dissolving the floor.

Amer, skilled at dealing with paid thugs, tosses a bunch of coins on the ground and tells the guards to take their money and run or his guys would see they never see the light of day again. Mark tries to threaten his men, but the men heard that Xarth is a magician and flee  – one dying from a spell thrown by Mark.

Freed, Xarth runs inside and helps Briz, which allows Briz to go outside and help Amer. Xarth however manages to lose his footing on the damaged floor and falls into the cellar below the floor, which is covered in webs and spider nests. Xarth retaliates by weakening the creature’s chitin, which helps support it vast weight. The creature cries out in pain.

Amer, with his stiletto, and Mark, with his wand, exchange several blows with Amer coming out the worse for wear. Amer would have been killed except Briz arrives and magically enhances Amer’s visage. Amer subtly takes on the look of a serpent and cowers Mark. This gives Briz a chance to destroy his wand – instead the two powers link together growing out of control.

Briz gains control of his power first, which causes Mark to drop his wand just seconds before it explodes. Amer shakes off the effects and slashes Mark across the arm. Mark, and everyone else in the courtyard watches as Xarth drives off the man-spider, which crashes through the side of the inn and scuttles over the wall into the forest. Mark, surrounded and trapped, reveals that he is actually a spider wearing the skin of the drover and flees into the woods as well.

Gerhald declares the Vulfgrau Trading House his true friends and opens a pair of casks in their honor. Rakur, who had been trapped upstairs by the rotting wood drinks to his new friend. Gerhald, claims Master Cords wagons in payment for the damages done to his inn – passing on a few choice bits to Amer.

The next day the river recedes and allowing the caravan to safely cross and continue on to Bornheim.

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