“What’s wrong with talking?”
“It takes too long and it’s boring. We should just hit things.”
“No, you just hit things. I talk to things and get us past them to our actual goal.”
“You take too long. We should’ve just fought our way through the Tower Girls.”
“Fighting a bunch of thieves? With them sneaking around and doing hit and run attacks in the dark? It would’ve taken forever. And we could’ve lost a party member.”
“No we wouldn’t have. Scratchy, tell him we wouldn’t have lost anybody.”
Milacent turned to her face her brother, but he had grown tired of her argument with Theodore and decided to do a little scouting on his own. Following the tracks into the ant mound, he found a narrow tunnel leading to – someone digging? The sound was faint, but Scratchy soon saw why. The miners were three foot tall blue humanoids, with appropriately tiny tools making appropriately tiny sounds. What they were mining for was a mystery, but their backs were to the tunnel, and Scratchy figured even Theodore wouldn’t talk to these things.
He was right. He went back and got the rest of the party, after squeezing their way through the tunnel they ambushed the miners from behind. Before they died, one caught sight of Zelcor, and his eyes bugged out as he screamed one of the very few words the party members knew in undercommon: “GNOME!!!!!!!!!!”
Then Milacent stabbed him.
As they looked over the corpses the party tried to make out what exactly the creatures were. They had huge heads and puffy blue faces, and were hideously ugly by everyone’s standards, including Scratchy’s. “Mites?” Theodore intoned. “I think that’s what they’re called.”
“Why do they hate gnomes?” Zelcor asked.
“Um, let me get back to you on that.”
There was another tunnel leading out of the mining chamber, and the two smallish members of the party followed it to a flat wall. Scratchy looked it over for a latch, or a handle, or something that would open a secret door, as he found it highly unlikely that the Mites would dig a tunnel ending in a stone wall. Try as he might, he found nothing. Zelcor searched as well, with similar results. As they were standing there befuddled, Milacent crawled her way into the tunnel and came to the wall. Looking around, she easily saw the latch sitting at the top of the door, three and a half feet up.
“Well, it was built by short people. That’s really well hidden for them,” Scratchy harumphed.
Milacent smiled, and then prepared to go through the door. She put her shield out in front of her, made sure the others were ready to back her up, then pushed through the door into the room beyond. When she got into it, she saw it was roughly trapezoidal, maybe twenty feet deep and a similar distance wide. Most disturbingly, it was choked with spiderwebs.
“Where’s the spider?” Milacent asked, cutting through the webs. She looked to the left and right and saw nothing, but she was looking in the wrong direction. From the ceiling a black widow spider larger than a horse descended onto her, its fangs slicing through her armor and into her back. Milacent screamed and moved away, then stumbled a bit, almost falling down.
Theodore saw the clear signs of poison taking hold, and shouted out a plan: He would go to where Milacent was, and Scratchy to the other side of the spider. They’d be able to hit it from two sides, and in the middle there’d be a clear path for Zelcor to fire his color spray at it, hopefully ending the fight within seconds.
The party followed the plan, and then Zelcor shot out the color spray. To everyone’s dismay, the spider didn’t flinch, not even the tiny pause that occurs when creatures are trying to resist a mind-affecting spells. “Oh no,” said Zelcor, “it’s immune.”
That changed the dynamics of the fight considerably. With Milacent and Theodore hacking away at one end, and Scratchy with his horsechopper at the other, the spider was going to die; but the fight was now a race to kill it before Milacent succumbed to the poison.
The spider didn’t help things by lunging at Milacent again. This time she was able to avoid its fangs, but the poison was taking its toll. She slashed at it, then again as she stumbled backward. Beside her, Theodore swung his morningstar furiously, and Scratchy stabbed the beast from behind. Most creatures would have died quickly under such an assault, but the spider was huge, and didn’t go down easily. Zelcor, his best spells useless, fired tiny darts of acid from his fingers, and finally the spider collapsed in a quivering heap on the ground. Milacent too collapsed, and Scratchy raced to her side.
“Sis!” he shouted, but she didn’t answer. She just lay there on the ground, eyes closed, for several tense seconds. Then slowly, she opened her eyes again and looked up at her assembled companions.
“How are you feeling?” Theodore asked.
“Not good,” she answered, “Can you heal me?”
Theodore shook his head. Wounds he could deal with, but poison was still beyond his power. Even if the venom had run its course, it would require several days of treatment before Milacent was in fighting shape again.
“Can you walk?” he asked.
“Then let’s get out of here.”
They made their way back out the way they had come, through the tunnels, past the ant mounds, and back up to the ancient bath where Scratchy had been attacked by giant amoebas. Theodore and Milacent were just discussing whether the Tower Girls would attack them in their weakened state when they noticed that Scratchy had stopped. “What is it?” Theodore asked.
“How long has it been since the fall of Thassilon?” Scratchy asked back.
“About ten thousand years.”
“And the amoebas were just sitting in this pool of water the whole time? What did they eat?”
“Well, there were bats.” Zelcor added helpfully.
“Bats eat bugs. There aren’t enough in here to sustain a full colony of bats. And what about the spiders that were eating a dolphin? Has there been a pod of dolphins living in here, in a pool, for ten thousand years?”
“What are you getting at?” asked Milacent, who figured she knew the answer anyway.
“We don’t have to go past the Tower Girls. There are other exits to this thing. And at least one is above water, for the bats to go out hunting. Listen.”
Listen they did, and as they did so, they heard the very faint sound of waves hitting stone. It was coming from the above the bath, right where a window would be. Scratchy clambered up on the wall until he found a spot where his hand passed through it. “Here we go,” he said, “I’ll get the boat, then if you can fit your big selves through this window we’ll be out of here.”
And so they did. The window was concealed from the outside by illusion, so after everybody squeezed through they left a rope tied to a broken crate to mark the spot. Then they made their way back to the Pathfinder lodge, where Sheila was very interested in listening to their story while Milacent recovered.
And this time around, she didn’t mind the talking.