Everyone stood staring at Trillamir blankly. He sighed and said, very deliberately, “Unless I am mistaken, you were recently in Plague-Mort?”
“Yes, we were,” Mal affirmed.
“And if we were?” Sheen asked.
“We are simply curious about what you saw. Catriona’s information”—he nodded to the eladrin—“was secondhand. Not very reliable.” Catriona glanced briefly at Trillamir, then returned to scrutinizing Haden. Haden gave her a polite smile.
Sheen glanced at Mal, then shrugged. “We didn’t see very much, we were mostly concerned with personal business. There were some people who turned out to be demonic stirring up trouble, a bunch of rioting, and a monstrosity claiming some relation to Pazuzu showed up, so we killed it. That was it, really. We didn’t get to see a lot of the scheming and intrigue that we have to assume was going on in the background.”
Trillamir nodded, lost in thought. Haden raised a hand. “May I say something?” he asked.
“Of course,” Trillamir replied, not really paying attention.
“I know that I’m terribly, terribly handsome,” Haden told Catriona, “but all this staring is a bit unnerving just the same.”
“I’m sorry,” Catriona said. “You just look familiar to me.” Talan rolled his eyes and chuckled, elbowing Joris.
“If there were demons in Plague-Mort, Catriona, then you may be right. Their attempt to claim the gate-town may have been spurred on by something else we do not know.”
“Well, they are demons,” Sheen said. “It’s not really necessary to ask *why* they’re evil.”
Frostthorn snorted explosively, causing everyone to jump. “The . . . person, is right. They’ve done it before, they’ll do it again. There’s no sense thinking too much about it.”
“If I were you,” Sheen said, scowling at Frostthorn, “I’d be a little more concerned with the activities o this new cult or organization calling itself the Illuminated. They’ve been causing all kinds of problems.”
Labelas frowned slightly. “I have heard of this group, but little more than the name.”
“Well, *that* we can tell you about,” Sheen said happily. Catriona edged closer to Haden, who tried backing away surreptitiously. Then the eladrin gasped.
“Haden! It is you! By the Stars, how you’ve grown! You wouldn’t remember me, I haven’t seen you since you were a babe. But no one could forget those particolored eyes.” Talan burst out laughing.
“You’d think that we’d be able to find someone who doesn’t know him somewhere,” Sheen grumbled.
“I’m a friend of your father’s and grandfather’s,” Catriona continued. “Or, at least, I knew Faodhagan while he was still with us.”
“I don’t think I ever met him,” Haden said awkwardly.
“No, no, of course not,” Catriona said, “The Abyss took him from us before you were born. I was meant to be on that mission, as well.” She sniffed momentarily. “But look at you now! Isn’t that something!”
“You do *know* that my mother is half-fiend?” Haden asked carefully.
“Oh, sure,” Catriona said blithely. “We all thought Cerellis had lost his mind, but like father, like son I suppose.”
“I . . . see,” Haden replied. Sheen reached out to squeeze his arm gently, looking away and missing the grateful expression on his face. Catriona looked around at the crowd and blushed.
“Pardon my interruption.”
“He’s not the only strange one here,” Frostthorn rumbled, pointing at Mal. “You look like them”—he indicated the elves—“but you smell like us,” he finished, pointing to himself.
“Aye, I am of the daonie-sidhe, at least in part,” Mal replied. “I serve . . .” he started to add, but his expression grew puzzled. Several seconds passed, then he appeared to recover and ended with, “I am of the Fair Folk.”
“I see,” Frostthorn said. “I, too, serve the Seelie, though at times like this I wonder why.”
“Mal actually seems to be having some . . . difficulties,” Haden said.
“What sort of difficulties?” Frostthorn demanded.
“He claims he was sent to aid us, somehow . . . but he appears to have left most of his brains in his other cloak. I’ve lived in Sigil my entire life, I’m prepared to put up with a certain amount of weirdness, but this is too much!”
“I may know someone who can help you, if it will get me out of this accursed moot,” Frostthorn said.
“ . . . sooooo Iii’d haaave to saaaay thaaaat I agreeeee with whaaat you saiiid,” the treant announced slowly.
“I don’t even remember what we asked him, now,” Frostthorn grumbled.
“We could use your aid with one small matter,” Mal commented.
“What is that?” Trillamir asked.
“We are seeking a man that came here some time before we did. What was his name?” he asked Talan.
“Gyderic,” Talan supplied.
“He’s one of the Illuminated,” Sheen explained. “He’s on a mission of some kind here, and I guarantee you that whatever it is, you won’t like it.”
“Then I move we end this moot,” Trillamir said. Frostthorn, Labelas, and Catriona left with alacrity. “What does this Gyderic look like?” Trillamir asked.
“He looks human,” Sheen said, “about five foot nine, brown hair, brown eyes, stupid little mustache.”
“He thinks he’s better-looking than he is,” Haden remarked sourly. “He also thinks he’s more clever than he actually is.”
“We’ll advise our guard and secure all the portals.”
“He has mental powers, you may want to organize your guards so that they can observe each other from out of sight.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Trillamir said, bowing shortly and walking towards the central tree. Sheen shrugged and headed the opposite direction, toward the temple of Corellon. The structure appeared more built than grown, unlike the chapel of Labelas Enoreth below, but it fit well into its surroundings. Inside, a handful of elves were gathered in prayer, led by a priest in green and brown robes. He glanced at them, but continued the service. Sheen opened her mouth to say something, then winced as Haden kicked the side of her boot and gave her a quelling look.
After a few minutes, the prayer seemed to conclude and the priest stepped away from the altar, approaching them. “May I help you?”
“We need to speak with Firil Starwing, if possible,” Haden said.
“I am sorry, but she has just stepped out to visit her brother’s shrine. The timing was a bit unusual, but that is her way.”
“Where is it?” Sheen demanded.
“Higher up the tree, near the old silk farms,” the priest said.
“Right,” Sheen announced, spun around, and charged out the door. Haden blinked.
“Please excuse us,” he told the priest, and hurried to follow. Joris and Talan barreled after them.
“You don’t suppose . . .?” Joris asked.
“I suppose, I suppose!” Sheen said. She groaned looking up the staircase and concentrated, then began climbing the side of the tree itself, her hands and feet sticking easily to the bark.
Haden sighed. “We’re going to feel awfully foolish if this turns out to be nothing, you know.”
“I feel a bit foolish already,” Joris said, puffing his way up the stairs behind the bard. They reached a small shrine in the upper branches shortly after Sheen did, a simple marker covered with memorabilia and the name “Sarolar” carved in Elven script. Otherwise, there was nothing to be seen.
Talan crouched down and peered at the ground. “Someone was here in the last hour or two,” he said. “There was something else, too. Not humanoid.” He stirred some leaves carefully. “It grabbed whoever was standing here and dragged them that way.” Talan pointed further along the branch, where the leaves pressed in, casting dark shadows.
“Right,” Sheen said yet again, and began working her way along the branch. Ectoplasm ran over her skin as she began manifesting powers. Talan searched through the gloom and pointed out a hole rimmed with a whitish crust. The ranger touched it carefully.
“It looks like spiderwebs . . . calcified spiderwebs,” he said.
“Oh,” Joris said. “That kind of silk farm.”
“It’d fit the tracks,” Talan said.
“Wonderful,” Sheen said. “Well, there’s no help for it.” She ducked down and slid into the hole. “Can’t use silkworms like everyone else, oh no . . .” her grumbling retreated into the darkness. “Like to see one of those mulberry-eating little bastards carry someone off . . .”
“Leave it to Sheen to have a vendetta against silkworms,” Haden chuckled. “We’d better follow her before something bad happens.”
Sheen slid down the diagonal tunnel on her belly, landing in a small cave dug out of the wood. The floor was covered with leaves and other bits of detritus that seemed less savory. Her eyes shifted into a strange black-and-white vision, and she realized that she was seeing in the dark just as dwarves did. Ahead of her, there appeared to be a pile of bodies, wrapped in sheets of webbing. The one on the top was wiggling. Sheen scooted across the floor, stopping abruptly when she ran into something in the middle of the room. Sticky spiderweb clung to her armor, clothing and hair, rendering her immoble. She swore viciously.
A droning noise started up in the shadows, as of many tiny clicks blending together in a voiceless moan. Two humanoid forms sheathed in webbing shambled forward. Their “skin” warped and distended, as though fist-sized lumps swum freely beneath it. Sheen twisted and tried to cut herself loose from the web as Talan and Joris came tumbling down the hole almost simultaneously. Joris took a wild swing at one of the monsters, but it backed away and he missed. Talan attacked the other with Greenheart, the blade spilling drops of what looked like glowing blood. The webbing exploded and a swarm of tiny spiders spilled out over Talan’s arms and chest.
Mal landed neatly and surveyed the room. “Tomb spiders,” he remarked as a mottled gray spider the size of a horse scuttled out of the shadows and snapped at him. Haden peeked in a bit more cautiously.
“Well, it’s not *really* appropriate, but you can’t argue with the classics,” he said, then declaimed:
“Old fat spider spinning in a tree!
Old fat spider can't see me!
Won't you stop,
Stop your spinning and look at me!
Old Tomnoddy, all big body,
Old Tomnoddy can't spy me!
Down you drop!
You'll never catch me up your tree!
Lazy Lob and crazy Cob
are weaving webs to wind me.
I am far more sweet that other meat,
but still they cannot find me!
Here am I, naughty little fly;
you are fat and lazy.
you cannot trap me, though you try,
in your cobwebs crazy.”
[Everyone knows where this poem comes from, right? -- JS]
Joris disabled his attacker, but the small spiders swarmed over him as well, and he yelled in pain at the dozens of bites. Sheen jumped on the giant spider, her claws sinking into its carapace. Then Mal seemed to gather himself, holding his hands up and speaking a word of Fire. The air erupted into a magical blaze, burning the swarms of tiny spiders to a crisp. The giant spider reared back with a shriek like the sound of escaping steam, and throwing Sheen off, it dashed out of the cave and vanished.
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