The Mission to Delph's Hollow
The Mission to Delph's Hollow
The word had spread through the kingdom of a new and deadly trouble. Monsters were the usual order of the day, but this, so the tale went, was different. A plague. At least that is what the clerics called it. Hidden death. Dust in the breeze. The rumors spoke of whole villages that were deserted, but none who entered the cursed realms ever returned.
That was were we came in. The king's legion. Or at least a few of the king's legion. The ones who drew the short straw, I guessed. Sent to look into the plague, and to burn the villages to the ground, should none be saved. Our leader, Rengest, was a burly fighter, a man of seemingly endless attitude, that masked a soft side. I was a fire mage, sent to burn the place as needed. We had some others; a wrinkled faced cleric, to send up her prayers for the dead, a sanguine scout, and a couple of opportunistic adventuring types. A party of fools.
When we came to the village of Delph's Hollow, we began to see some of what the rumors had hinted at. Silky threads begin to drape from the trees to the earth, where the forest began to recede. These strands became thicker, and more dense as we approached the center of the village. Unsure of what they were, I instructed our party not to touch them. It was slow going as we hopped between threads. Eventually, our less agile members chose to hold back, and I carried on alone.
The threads were a fine silver, silken lines glistening in the light. As much like cobwebs as anything, but much larger, and thicker. Dryder? Picking my way became more difficult, until suddenly the lines ceased. Ahead of me was a ring of plain earth, near the center of the town. And then... nothing?
I had expected some large central monster, some cause of the webbing. But the threads had simply stopped, as if cut.
Curious, I examined the ground closely. While there was dirt, there were also tiny thread covered pouches mixed in with the dirt. They were nearly invisible against the ground, and seemed to be so small, and so fragile. I bent to look at them, and noticed a faint glimmer of dust around them. Certainly magical. Seeds? Eggs?
The explosion happened before I could think. A soft “Pffft”, and I had a faceful of powder. Quickly brushing it off, I stepped back, muttering a charm against disease. Another “Pfft”, and more white powder touched me. In a flash, the ground seemed to seethe, with pods disgorging their contents on me, one after another. I fell backwards, trying to get away from the danger, and landed on the thick lines of webbing surrounding the clearing. I screamed a warning to the others, and let off the best fireball that I could muster, before the poison entered my system. The blackness came quickly.
When I awoke, it was night. The village was quiet, and I could not hear my colleagues. Nor any sounds. No birds? No night-creatures? Something held me firm, and tightened uncomfortably as I wriggled, only loosening when I lay still. I could move my head, and looked around me. I was held standing, and could see great scars in the webbing of the village, from my comrades. Near me, a large wedge was hacked away, with the torn edges withered. My fireball had left a charred crater around me, where the silver threads were just beginning to repopulate. A withered corner I guessed was from the priest's blessing. Aside from their traces, there was no sign of my companions.
We need more fire then? Immolation? Will that get rid of it all?
The intruders must be destroyed at once. Annihilated.
I stopped, and analyzed my thoughts. Intruders?
A vision of my comrades passed through my head. They were sitting around a small fire, talking, some distance away.
I cast my thoughts back to our mission, but a vague throbbing kept distracting me. I was injured?
I followed the throbbing to the source. Burnt. Pain. My fireball. I had centered it on myself, but this was different. Withering. Fear.
My mind was being touched by the webbing?
As if to agree, a surge of energy ran through me. I could sense the life around me, as if it was a part of me. It was feeding me, giving me strength. Healing me.
And I could feel too, the lives of the villagers. They were taken, and made greater. One being, of many minds. They lived, and thought, in this new form. The webbing connected us, was us.
But I was a stranger. And I had hurt the whole. I could feel the minds of the others, deliberating. “He is now of us. And so he will serve us”. The agreement flowed through the tendrils of our web, my own mind part of it.
I could feel the tendrils that bound me loosening a little, and looked down at my body. Beneath my skin, I watched as ripples of webbing flowed along my arms, binding around them, before pushing through to form a thin silvery layer under the skin. The tendrils moved on their own, but with a little thought, I could guide them. The webbing covered my torso, and I watched as it wove itself into my skin. It was painless, but permanent. I gasped, as two thick, ropy tendrils pushed from my torso. The threads wound themselves around, to make a pair of powerful looking tentacles. Even my face was changed, as I felt the webbing force itself through me. My mouth was home to a single, powerful appendage. As it grew, I choked, and coughed, before stopping abruptly. I watched, terrified, as the ropy tentacle burst from my mouth, before feeling a calming touch of the whole. My skin was rippling wildly, as small hair-like threads burst from me, covering all of me. The threads had entirely corrupted me, and the webbing released me, to let me learn my new body. I was to hunt for my people. I would help us to grow. That was to be my penance for injuring the whole.
I stumbled from my cocoon, falling over into the dirt ring. Our spores flitted over my face, and I could feel the threads in my skin growing thicker. More tendrils erupted, and I became dizzy for a moment. There was so much sight. Sound. Taste. Dawn was breaking, and the village was alive with life, vibrant. I could taste the temperature, the pollen on the breeze. Somehow the tendrils on my body gave me another dimension of knowledge. The sensations were overwhelming, and I gave in to them, lying on my back in the ring. How could I have missed this? There was no death here. No plague. Only life.
And then, as quickly as it began, it ended. The world shifted, and I could feel my tendrils pulling back. Become human? The thought crossed my mind. The thick tendrils on my torso were covered by my robe. Close-- nearly human. I reached up, and my face felt normal. No tendrils. Why had... ah. They are coming. The intruders.
The voice called, loud, and worried. “Mendrid?”
Rengast the bold, my friend, and bodyguard was standing on the edge of the thick threads.
“Nope. Not really.” I laughed, feeling the seething threads beneath my skin.
“Can you walk? I can't carry you. Too many threads.”
“I can walk... just. Stay there, and I will come to you.”
The threads, our body, could take my companion now. He could join us, perhaps become one like me. But now was not the time. The others, they would come to burn, and gash. We must stop the others.
I walked along, but had the presence of mind to pretend to dodge the threads. They must not know, yet.
“Drydar. A big one, I guess, but I didn't see it. The ring had some kind of gas trap. I suppose the webbing should have smothered me, but I woke up too quickly. The fireball might have had something to do with it.” I lied, and hoped that my friend would believe the story.
Rengast nodded, and handed me a healing potion. The thrifty adventurer in me winced at wasting a potion, but I drank it gratefully. If I looked healthy, I might avoid the cleric's scrutiny. Rengast's strength would be welcome in the whole, but that cleric... ?
I felt pulling deep within me as we came to the edge of the webbing. I could go a little farther, but not much. A chastisement flitted across my mind. “Our people move gradually. You cannot leave the whole”. I steeled myself and kept walking, praying to whatever god might hear me that the campfire was near. If I fell, as I would soon, I didn't think that I could keep myself hidden. They would kill me, if they knew, and I was too weak to fight.
Rengast saw me stumble, and looked at me with concern. “You ok?”
“The poison. It's out of me, but I'm still a bit weak.”
He nodded, and picked me up without warning. “We're almost there. I'll carry you.”
My tendrils lashed out instinctively, and he dropped me in surprise, staring.
“Quiet. Please. The others. They can't know. I will be killed.”
He nodded, his face white with shock and fear.
“I'm sorry. I was going to wait. There is no Drydar. Only...the webbing. I... am... “
In my weakened state, the threads erupted from me, writhing around my form, and the words tumbled out on their own. “They must not harm us. They will kill the village. So many of us. Not evil. Not a plague. Just... webbing.”
Rengast stepped back, shocked, and frightened. Though my body must have been nightmarish to behold, he stood still, and his eyes met mine. The trust and friendship in his expression was pure and unguarded. I squirmed under his gaze, feeling monstrous and evil. I was what we fought to purge. A monster. Perhaps even a daemon of some kind. And yet...
After a long pause, Rengast spoke. “Then I must guard it with you.”
In shock, I watched as he turned, drew his sword, and deliberately hacked at some webbing on a nearby tree. A surge of pain lanced through me, and my tendrils streaked over to bind him. The webbing stirred around us, and surrounded him, my own tendrils helping to form a cocoon to immobilize him. It was so fast. I could not think, but felt my body, and that of the whole react instantly to the intruder. His frightened eyes met mine, and I watched with amazement as the threads began to invade his form.
His body was strong, and fit. His mind frightened, but whole. He would work well as a guardian. I watched as the threads erupted from his skin to form a thin silver pelt. He gasped, and a pair of thick ropy tendrils burst from his torso. We were alike then. Both of us would have the manipulating tentacles. A second pair erupted from his back, strong, and tough. He was strong before, but the webbing had corrupted him into something formidable. The scars on his face danced with the threads beneath, and I watched the tendrils burst forth, as his mind touched mine for the first time.
I willed my tendrils to help with the work, and to move more quickly. To help him tap into our strength. To help him more quickly join the whole, as I did.
“Rengest. You are becoming one like me. We will guard the whole together. You are safe now.”
His mind responded, confused and frightened. I touched it, trying to calm him, and then withdrew to let him find himself.
The webbing released him quickly, and he fell to the ground, his mind spinning from his new state. I stood by him, feeling my new body stretch out and taste the surroundings. Though I was far from used to my form, I stood vigilant, ready to protect my friend while he changed.
Rengest writhed on the ground, threads flowing under his skin like snakes. As I watched, a thick rope wrapped itself around each of his arms and legs, adding strength to his muscles. He would be strong, much stronger than I. His arms were dwarfed by the now thick and muscular tentacles that penetrated his torso. His head and body was covered in a fine pelt of threads, and tendrils flowed out of where his mouth and nose were. Like me, the thread would give him all he needed from his environment, including information, and sustenance. And in return, he would guard us.
My mind drifted to the party at the campfire. What would they do when they realized Rengest had not returned? Or that both of our bodies had disappeared? Come and attack? Send for mages to burn? Clerics to “cure”?
“They are too far.” Rengest spoke out loud, but weakly, his speech a whisper of tendrils. “We cannot go to them. We will wait until they come to us.”
“And if they come to burn?”
I felt the web-life, strong within him. “We will protect the whole.”