I walked into the darkness followed by the rest of the group. Light from Zef's staff reflected in irregular patterns on the damp cavern walls. We walked in silence.
I'm sure everyone else was thinking about our predicament, and how we got here. Trapped underground with an army of spiders blocking our exit. Our only real hope now was to sneak out once the spiders had become disinterested. But the ruined tower leading to a subterranean basement still had me wondering. Why would it lead here? Why was it infested with man-eating spiders?
We kept walking down the corridor around another bend when Lolan said, "What is that?" I was keeping an eye on each step, and looked up. A root-like vein stretched down the corridor above our heads. I tried to affect it with my nature magic, but it wouldn't budge. It was different than just a lifeless root though. I could sense it like other plants, but it was faint. To move it felt like trying to move a boulder twice my height. It was heavy and far away. Normally, if it were a dead root or something else not related to nature, I would feel nothing.
I had stopped walking to study it like the others. "I think it's magical," I said in a curious tone.
"Yes. I think it's something close to illusion magic," said Zef. "It doesn't feel too far from my wheelhouse."
Tigala walked silently behind us. I couldn't see well past Zef's staff, but I was pretty sure she was pouting because she had to be saved by us—two teenagers and an old man of different races.
"Cool. Not only are there monster spiders down here but there are also veins of unknown magic." Lolan said.
"I'm even more intrigued now," said Zef. "Come on. Let's go."
We continued our walk. As we did, I noticed a faint purple glow coming from the vein itself. No one said anything, but I was pretty sure they saw it too. The vein grew in thickness and brightness, the deeper we traveled. Then it was joined by other veins stretching through the hallway.
"Zef, have you ever seen anything like this before?" I asked. I turned my head to look at him while I walked.
He gave me a funny look. " Why, because I'm old?"
"Um, uh. No. Because—"
He laughed at my discomfort. "You're right. I am. And yes, I've seen something similar before, though it was nowhere near this big.
"Sometimes, when there is a great magical release, this sort of thing can happen, but to be this big, it must have been something extremely powerful."
Up ahead, I saw the end of the narrow corridor. It led to another larger area. I stepped up to the opening and found a staircase leading down into the room. The purple glow of Zef's magic only extended down it a few feet, but I could make out the silhouette of the rest of the stairs because the room was filled with the glowing purple veins. They stretched along the walls and ceiling, converging at the brightest point on the floor below. They pulsed with energy, shining through white fabric draped about the corridor below, casting eerie shadows on the walls.
"Woah," I said.
I took a couple of steps down the stairs when I saw something shift out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to where it was and saw nothing there.
"Ahh!" I heard a yell behind me and turned to look. I saw Lolan's back, and then he disappeared from sight.
Was this another trick from Zef? I looked at him, and he hadn't even looked back until he heard the yell.
I looked back down to the room below. There was something weird about the cloth. It stretched from one place to another, almost as if it were...webs!
"Zef, more light. Look out for spiders!" I said.
I heard Tigala growling as she was probably turning herself into another form.
I scanned the room looking for whatever took Lolan. In one of the shadows was a giant spider wrapping something in silk. I found a collection of dirt on a ledge close to it and began growing a vine toward it, but before I could reach it, the spider disappeared. It left behind a silk-wrapped object about the size of a body.
A moment later, the massive spider was in front of me, preceded by a blue-purple swirl of energy. The spider can teleport?
Each of its mandibles was the size of my hand. Its body was covered in dark hairs with streams of glowing purple energy showing through the creases in its abdomen. Its eight purple eyes reflected the terror on my face. It jumped and grabbed me with its front legs. It pulled me under its body and began spinning me as it covered me in sticky white string.
I tried to struggle free. I grabbed a loose rock from the stairs as I spun and slammed it in the spider's abdomen, but it only hissed in response. I heard a familiar tiger-like roar from Tigala, and then everything shifted.
With a flash of magical energy, I was no longer dangling from the spider on the stairs. I was now on the wall of the cavern, still held by the spider, about twenty feet above the ground. I heard another growl, still very close to me, and saw Tigala's tiger tail whip around. She was still clinging to the spider's back!
The spider screamed as Tigala struggled for a grip, and I began to slip from the spider's legs. I dropped five or so feet, dangling upside down from the spider by a web. I looked up and saw Tigala, fully in tiger form, barely hanging onto the spider with her one good front claw.
I looked back down (or up?) and began using my free arm to grow a vine from the ground to cushion my inevitable fall. It was hard to do with one hand hanging from a fight between a giant spider and a tiger with one less paw, but I managed to get the vine almost to me when everything changed again.
In my peripherals, I saw another flash of purple light and the web holding me up went loose. I crashed into my vine with little grace and Tigala and the spider were now higher on the opposite wall, closer to the ceiling than the wall really. Tigala was almost upside down and having an even harder time.
I drained the energy from my poor landing pad of a vine and took stock of the plants I knew. Vines wouldn't help to cushion from that height, and trees would take too long. Something else. Mushrooms! I think I can grow those, and the ones in the Keelwall Forest were massive.
I began growing a mushroom, and it grew surprisingly fast. The conditions were perfect for it; dark and damp. A brown mushroom sprouted from the floor of the cavern beneath the fight and grew to about my shoulders in height by the time Tigala fell. She curled around, as cats do when falling, and managed to face her feet to the floor before crashing into the air-filled mushroom. It collapsed, releasing a wave of spores throughout the cavern. I held my breath, saw her move, and let out a sigh of relief.
Just then, my heart skipped a beat as an ogre stomped in through the entrance at the top of the stairs. It must have followed us in. It looked straight at the spider and howled at it. It raised its club, readying a swing, and the spider teleported across the ceiling. It looked back down at us and then skittered into a hole in the wall.
Well, at least the spider is dealt with, I thought, turning my attention back to the new challenger.
Wait, how did an ogre fit through that narrow passage? I studied the creature more closely and noticed I could still partially see the cavern wall behind it. It was slightly transparent. I looked hated and found Zef, heavily obscured, standing inside one of the ogre's legs.
An illusion. That must be why he wasn't helping during the fight. He was creating that.
The ogre let out one final roar that slowly turned into Zef's laughter. The illusion faded and Zef was left chuckling to himself.
"Did you see how scared he was?" he asked.
I didn't have time for games. "Come on. Tigala and Lolan might be hurt. Let's get them before it comes back."
I began growing a vine from the rough ground. It took some time because Lolan was dangling from such a high place and the dirt was not great for jungle plants. Also, I was still only working with one hand. When it reached the cocoon of Lolan, I wrapped the vine around him several times, and grew a few thorns in a row on the tip of it, using it like a saw to cut the webs. After a few moments, he was loose, and my vines were able to give him a much softer landing than Tigala had.
I heard grunts coming from the spore-covered Tigala. She looked to be alive, at least, pulling herself to her feet. She was now back in her usual bobcat Beastfolk form, and she grumbled. As she walked over to the bottom of the stairs where I sat.
I was now using the same saw technique with some thorns to cut both me and Lolan free. I made sure to cut the areas where the silk wasn't as tight, like the gap where his arms rested against his side or between his legs.
Tigala walked over to Lolan and used her claw to tear away the rest of the silk. Having freed myself, I joined them as Lolan emerged.
"What was that thing?" he asked. He looked around with wide eyes as he pulled himself free of the web sack and ensured that it was no longer touching any part of him.
"A teleporting spider," said Zef, smiling as always. Lolan maintained his look of horror.
I looked at Tigala. She was worse for wear, standing more slumped than normal, but she was standing at least.
"Thank you," I said, making eye contact with her. She claimed we were just a means to finding her people, but she kept fighting that spider when it teleported with me under it. She could have jumped off when it was lower on the wall, but she didn't.
She looked away frowning, but I did see a nod in response. I guess that was the best I could expect.
We heard a crack of energy coming from the small corridor leading into the room. Zef quickly pushed us all against the side of the staircase.
"Quick," he said, sitting us against the wall. "Don't move!" He joined us and purple energy flowed from his hands. It covered the four of us, and slowly changed to the tan color of the cavern walls. Shadows formed in the covering along with more realistic rock textures. The change stopped and we were huddled in the corner, still, looking through a translucent rock-like disguise, like children hiding under a blanket.
That was my first real chance to fully examine the room. The veins running through it pulsed casting an eerie hue to everything within the cavern. Spider webs filled the room, and a few other people-sized web sacs stood on the floor. The purple glowing veins wrapped around the web sacks as they did to everything else in the room. Maybe that's how the spider started teleporting. It ate magically tainted food.
Beneath the webs, there was a table with an open book on it. And at the center, closest to the epicenter of the magical veins, was a dead body, probably a Gnome, based on the shape. It was twisted in an unnatural way and almost looked charred on its hands and face.
We heard footsteps above us on the stairs. There was a muffled clank of metal with each step. My body tensed, as did Lolan's next to mine.
The figure came into view. I saw a long yellow cloak that reached the figure's ankles. Plates of metal formed a symmetrical pattern across the back. The figure's head was covered by a hood. When it turned to look our way, I saw a polished metal mask hiding the face beneath. A wind entered the room.
Past the person in yellow, creeping out from the hole in the ceiling, was the dark teleporting spider. There was a flash of energy and the spider appeared behind the person, but the figure was ready. A lightning bolt struck down from a small dark cloud that I hadn't noticed forming above us. It zapped the spider with a deafening crack and when my eyes had finished readjusting to the dim cave, all that remained of the creature was a smoking corpse.