Witch Queen of Perrenland

Kirk and Aaron were just two travelers hoping to find adventure in Greyhawk’s most notorious drinking establishment. Little could they have known that adventure would find them just a few feet from the Green Dragon. Joined by the mysterious and tight-lipped merchant Rarsirrien, a female thief, and a disgraced Paladin, they become caught up in a plot to thwart the infamous and evil Iggwilv from obtaining the secret to immortality. To do so, they must breach the magically protected borders of the secretive Valley of the Mage. If they succeed, they will have to find Iggwilv’s agents while avoiding detection by the most powerful spell caster on the continent. Discovery will mean capture and death, and failure will mean the loss of countless lives to Iggwilv’s cruel experiments. But in the Valley of the Mage, not everything, nor everyone, is as it appears. Along the way, our heroes will have to confront the demons of their past and a few in the present. If they succeed, their reward will be freedom, fame, and the riches that come from it.

Giant Spiders


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She sat back against the large oak tree she had tied her horse to. In the west, the sun was setting behind the distant mountains forming the great desert’s eastern edge. She had been waiting at least four hours in case the others had made it through the gateway. She was alone again for the first time in days, a condition she was familiar with, but now she realized how much she hated it. She missed Rarsirrien, Kirk, and that annoying half-elf. How odd, she thought, to miss people she had only known a few days, yet she barely missed those she had spent most of her life with. Of course, they were the ones trying to kill her, so she didn’t miss them so much. It was late, and on the off chance that the others survived and the gate still functioned, she decided it would be better to make camp here for the night and then start off in the morning.

“Start off,” she chuckled, “as if you have a clue where to start looking.” Her horse neighed as if in agreement. She went and patted its muzzle, “No one asked you.” She pulled an apple from a saddle bag and gave it to the animal who devoured it. “So you’re hungry too.” She took out a small portion of the bread packed for her and ate it, then had a sip of water. Her stomach growled, but she wanted to ration as much as possible. She would be able to find plenty to eat in the forest, so better to save the dry stuff for when food was scarce. She unpacked a blanket and curled up between the roots of the oak, her horse remaining close to her. She closed her eyes and tried to get some rest, but without anyone to stand watch, she knew she wouldn’t have a good night’s sleep.

The sound of horses and men woke her from her sleep. Her horse neighed and stomped on the ground nervously, She threw off the blanket and grabbed her sword. She paused momentarily and listened to try and determine the direction she should head. She hoped it might be Rarsirrien and the others who had finally made it through the gateway. The sounds were coming further down the hill from where she was and toward a stand of thick, high trees. She started off in a light run in the direction of the noise when she suddenly stopped. The air was pierced by a high-pitched shriek followed by the sound of horses in retreat back down the hill. She knew that shriek all too well; the sound of a giant spider. Holding her sword at the ready, she moved cautiously toward the stand of trees. As she approached, she came across the body of one dead spider, a pike still lodged between its head and body. She moved slowly and silently through the wood until she came upon the site of the battle. She looked up and could see the thick strands of web strung between the upper reaches of the trees. Two smaller spiders were already making their way back up into their treetop abode. The third was busy with something, but she couldn’t see it from where she was. As she tried to move around to get a better view, she startled a small squirrel, and it scampered off through the leaves as fast as it could. The larger spider spun around and started closing the distance to her. “Ilkalik!”[1] she shouted. The giant paused for a moment, then resumed its movement toward her. “Wun Lolth's kaas, vrine'winith![2]” she commanded again, assuming a voice of authority. The spider immediately halted its advance toward her. She could see the pale face of a man partially wrapped in the spider webbing. “Leave him to me. I must make a sacrifice to Lolth, and you will be rewarded.”

The spider remained stationary for a moment as if considering Desprae’s words; then, it began advancing on her again. She drew the sword she had been given and raised it above her head. With her other hand, she pulled the sleeve of her sword arm up, revealing a mark on her forearm. “Wun Lolth's kaas, Usstan phlyle nindol or'shanse. Yutsu ulu dosst dalharen. Dos orn tlu malla.”[3] This time the spider halted, bowed its head slightly, and returned to its nest in the trees. She watched it retreat to the upper branches before she approached the partially wrapped human. She thought to free him and, looking up, thought better of it. Better to move away before revealing her true intentions. She had no desire to try and fend off a giant spider and two of its children. She sheathed her sword, propped the unconscious human partially up, then stepped in front of him and allowed him to fall over her shoulders. Fortunately, he was only wearing leather armor, but even so, she could not carry him far. She only needed to be out of sight of the spiders before she tried to free him.

She managed to carry him a few hundred feet — far enough to be out of view of the spiders high up in the trees — and set him down in a small clearing where the sun would warm him once she freed him of the webbing. She started massaging his arms and legs to try and get his blood flowing. He had only taken enough venom to immobilize him, not kill him. These spiders preferred their prey alive when they ate them. Soon, some color was returning to his skin, and she sat back and waited for him to regain consciousness. She removed his weapons as a precaution. She imagined he might not react positively to a Drow standing over him after being attacked by giant spiders.

His eyes began to open slowly, squinting as he was looking into the sun. He could make out a shape in front of him, and he heard a female voice say, “You’re going to be okay. The venom will wear off soon. No one is going to harm you.” He moved back slightly and tried to sit up. He closed his eyes, then opened them and blinked a few times. He felt like he was trying to rouse himself out of a deep sleep after drinking heavily. He opened his eyes and looked at the earth between his legs, then shielding his eyes from the sunlight, he slowly looked up. As soon as he caught sight of Desprae, he immediately reached for his sword, but his scabbard was empty. His hand went to his boot, where he kept a knife in case of emergency, but it, too, was gone. He sank back, “It seems I am your prisoner.”

She smiled. How ironic, she thought., to go from being a prisoner to having one. “I have no use for a prisoner, but I could use a guide.”

“I have no idea what your foul purpose is, but I’ll not help you.” He tried to stand, but his legs wouldn’t stay under him, and he collapsed. He could see her smile at his futile attempt. The fog began to lift from his brain, and he could feel things becoming clearer. His eyesight was also improving. He watched her stand and turn her back to him.

“You must be thirsty by now.” She walked over to where her horse was tied, opened her saddle bag, and took out a water skin. She walked back and held it out to him.

He looked skeptical at the skin. Then he saw the shape of a tree embossed on the leather and the elven letters for Tillahi’s Estate. He took it from her and studied it for a moment before opening it and sniffing the contents. Cautiously, he took a small sip and swirled the liquid around in his mouth before swallowing. If it was poisoned, better to die now. “How did you come by this? Murder an elf in Celene?”

“It was a gift from a friend.” She took the skin back from him and took a sip herself so he would know it wasn’t poisoned. “I’m called Desprae, and I’ve become separated from my traveling companions. I could use some help from someone who knows these lands to help me locate them.”

“I’m Ealord, lieutenant of the Sixth Cavalry of the Duchy of Ulek. I will not help you.”

“I guess I should have left you to your fate.” She went back to her horse and put the water skin back in her saddle bag. She climbed into the saddle and turned the horse around to face him. “Here are your weapons,” she tossed his sword and knife to the ground near him. “Try not to get yourself eaten on your way home, Ealord of the Sixth Cavalry.”

He watched as she started off on her horse down the hill. He picked up his weapons and then stared back after the Drow. This made no sense. A Drow saves him from spiders, doesn’t kill him, gives him water, returns his weapons, then rides off on a horse. No one would believe his tale. Perhaps it was better to keep her close until he discovered her true purpose. “Wait!” he called out after her. “Wait for me,” and he took off down the hill to catch up with her.

“I thought you wouldn’t help me,” she said, making certain to keep her gaze straight ahead,

“I’m not. I’m keeping an eye on you.”

She continued on, riding downhill through the trees. She was becoming more accustomed to being above ground, and her eyes had adjusted over the past few weeks to where she could see almost as well in daylight as in the dark.

“You’re not what I expected from a Drow.”

“How many Drow have you encountered?” She continued looking ahead, but she could see him out of the corner of her eye as he walked next to her horse’s flank.

“Well, none, but I’ve heard tales from others who have traveled in caverns and caves below the earth. They say the dark elves are as evil as high elves are good —” He suddenly found a sword at his throat.

“Well then, perhaps I should remain true to my nature, kill you right here, and leave your rotting corpse out in the open for the carrion eaters?” He swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple scraping against her blade as he did. “Of course, those tales could be a little exaggerated,” he whispered.

She regained control of herself and removed her sword from his neck. “I may be an outcast, but I’m still a drow and won’t apologize for what I am. I’ve known plenty of humans who have helped the Drow. Are they any less evil?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Fortunate for you, I don’t paint all humans with the same brush. Otherwise, you’d be hanging from a tree as food for spiders.” She resheathed her sword and spurred her horse forward. “I need to find my friends.”

“So,” Ealord thought, “she’s not alone.”

Aaron awoke and, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, glanced around. Kirk was still asleep under an oak tree, Dread Naught was still sitting by the fire where they had left him last night, and Rarsirrien was by his horse, putting his cloak into the saddle bag. He looked around, but there was no sign that Desprae had found them during the night. He sat up as Rarsirrien walked back and sat down near him.

“I know she made it through safe before any attack struck the gateway, so she must be here somewhere. I’m going to go take a look around and see if I can locate her.”

Aaron shook his head. “It would take days, if not weeks, to comb this forest on a horse looking for her. Can’t you use that fancy map of yours?”

“It’s gone. I must have dropped it on the other side during the battle. That’s why I’m going to do it from the air. I can cover more ground and see better from above. We need her with us.”

“I know. I miss her too. I’m certain she’s okay.”

Rarsirrien nodded. “Oh, she can handle herself alright. I’m not worried about that. I’m more worried about what might happen if anyone else comes across her before I can locate her. Drow are only slightly less welcomed here than in Celene.” He stood and put his hand on Aaron’s shoulder before walking up the hill toward a stone outcropping. Aaron lost sight of him in the forest, but a few moments later, the steel dragon emerged and launched himself into the air from the rocky ledge. Aaron looked after Rarsirrien as he descended slightly, then turned east and gained some altitude. The dragon began to make ever-widening circles, and Aaron watched until he was out of sight. The sound of Kirk yawning and his own stomach growling brought his thoughts back to the present.

Kirk looked around, “Where’s Rarsirrien?”

“Gone to look for Desprae. He figures she should have made it safely to the other side since she was first through the gate. I hope that it’s not too far away. Otherwise, all that time we saved will be lost just finding her.” He looked off in the distance. “I hope he finds her.”

“I’m sure he will. If anyone can, he can. Why didn’t he try that map of his?”

“It’s gone. He said he must have lost it on the other side during the battle and our escape.”

“He would have, but I caught it just as it fell out of his cloak. I didn’t have a chance to hand it back to him before he sent me and my horse on our way. Once I got here and found you three, I forgot all about it.” He reached into his cloak and withdrew Rarsirrien’s map cylinder. He opened it and unfurled the paper, but nothing happened.

“I suppose it only works for its rightful owner.” Aaron sank back to the ground. Just then, his stomach growled again.

Kirk smiled, “Right. I guess I can make breakfast this morning since I appear to be the one who got the most sleep.” He looked over at their newcomer, who was resting against a tree. “How ‘bout you, Mr. Undead Paladin?”

“No,” the man growled, then added, “Thank you.”

The nicety was an afterthought, but Kirk appreciated the gesture. He glanced back down at Aaron before he started off to get some of the food from his pack, “At least it wasn’t an argument, and you have to admit, we’re lucky he doesn’t eat his weight in food otherwise, we’d be stopping every few days to resupply.”

Aaron smiled and nodded. He shielded his eyes from the morning sun and scanned the sky to the east, but he could no longer see Rarsirrien. He wondered how long and far he was willing to go and search for her. “I hope she’s okay,” he whispered.

Rarsirrien had climbed high into the early morning sky. Changing into his dragon form and taking flight in broad daylight was a risk he would have preferred not to take, but since he had lost the map, he didn’t see any other choice. He felt they needed Desprae’s help and unique skills to succeed. He had also grown fond of the Drow in the time he had gotten to know her.

He hoped that she wouldn’t be too far away since he, Kirk, and Aaron had all materialized relatively close to one another. Tillahi would have made sure that the other end of the gate was someplace safe and likely secluded. Since Desprae had gone through first before any disruption to the magical field, it was reasonable to assume she would come through where Tillahi originally intended for them to be. Unfortunately, he had not spent much time on this side of the mountains. He had only been to Bissel once several years ago as a guest of Tillahi at the Margrave’s invitation. As it happened, both he and Walgar were appreciators of Celene wine.

He had been flying ever-widening concentric circles above where he had come through the gate but had seen nothing. He thought back to the moment when Desprae had traveled through. After she had passed, a magic missile impacted the arch on the right side. “What if that altered the trajectory slightly?” he wondered. On a hunch, he shifted his flight slightly more north and east. Then, off in the distance, he saw five men on horses. They were making their way down out of a thick band of trees. He climbed into the sun in case any of them thought to look up. Further up the mountainside, he could see a picket of thick pine trees, and in a small cluster, he could make out something silvery reflecting the sunlight. “Giant spiders,” he thought. The webbing in the upper branches was still damp with the morning dew, making them appear silver in the morning light. He decided to risk taking a closer look since it was in an area where Desprae could have come through. As a Drow, she wouldn’t have had much to fear from spiders. He glanced back down to see where the men and horses were and saw they were just about to pass through another thick bunch of trees, which would mean they couldn’t see much of the sky above them. As soon as they entered, he dove to pick up speed and then angled for an area not far from where he had observed the spider’s nest. He landed a few hundred yards south of where the spider webs were. He considered remaining in his dragon form for a moment, but trying to move through the forest in this shape was not very practical. He started out in the direction of the spider webs, picking his way cautiously and looking up often. He was looking up so often that he stumbled over a fallen limb and had to catch himself. “Damn,” he admonished himself. He was about to continue on when he noticed that the ground and moss around the base of the tree he was leaning against was matted down, and on one side, there were horse prints in the soft earth. He leaned close to the earth and sniffed. “So she slept here overnight. Maybe a few hours ago now.”

Certain that he was on the right track, he followed the footprints in the direction of the spiders, then stopped. The prints came back in the direction of where her horse had been tied, and he could tell she was dragging something or someone. He backtracked along her path and found the remains of the cut spider webbing and another set of footprints - boots and from the size of a human man. He thought back to the men on horses he had seen earlier, but there were five, and if they were Ulek cavalry, then there should have been at least six. He wondered if she had rescued one of them from the spiders. That was risky and a little selfless. He smiled, “Okay, my Drow friend, let’s see where you’ve gotten yourself off to.” Desprae’s prints were no longer visible, but he picked up where the horse had started down the hill, with the boot prints not far behind. “So, not a prisoner, I hope.”

On a horse, even at a slow pace, she would be faster than him in human form. He would have to take a chance, change back, and try to fly ahead of her. From the air, he had seen a road that had paralleled and then crossed a river. He guessed that from the good condition of the road, it was the Silver Path that led to the dwarves’ mines beneath the mountains. If she was headed in that direction, he could get ahead of her and arrange a meeting point. He ran back to where he had landed and changed back into his dragon form. No ledge to spring from here, so he would have to leap into the air. He crouched and sprang into the air while his wings simultaneously came down, generating a small dust devil beneath him as he gained altitude. “Not too high,” he reminded himself. He was too low to glide, so he had to beat his wings more often than he would have preferred. Ahead he could see the terrain leveling out slightly and the trees thinning. He had traveled four miles when he looked off to his right and, through a break in the trees, saw a figure in black on a horse and a man walking beside her. He couldn’t believe his luck. He looked for a place to land ahead of her where he would be far enough away not to be seen by either of them. He corrected his course slightly right to bring himself closer to their line of travel, assuming they continued in a more or less straight line. There was a gap in the tree line almost two miles before the forest ended and the river’s edge. Here the Silver Path followed along the river heading southwest. He made for it and landed. At her current speed, he figured he had twenty to thirty minutes to wait before she arrived. Since there was a gap between the trees, he could see her if she came out of the woods several hundred feet to his left or right. If he started to try and meet her, they could pass each other, so he decided to wait and watch. After forty minutes, he was starting to doubt his decision. Just then, she emerged from the trees about a hundred yards to his left, with a man wearing the uniform of a Ulek cavalry officer at her side. He whistled.

Desprae’s head turned in his direction. He could see her leaning forward in the saddle, her left hand raised to shield her eyes from the sun, when she suddenly spurred the horse into a gallop in his direction. He thought she might run him down for a moment as she showed no signs of slowing. As she came up to him, she slid down and out of the saddle and into his arms. The move surprised him not only because he hadn’t expected that welcome but because she had done it so smoothly as if she had been riding a horse all her life.

Ealord hadn’t expected that Desprae would find one of her companions so soon. He had hoped to have more time to somehow signal someone from his unit that there were possible hostile intruders crossing into their land. Now he would have to play the situation smartly in order to remain alive and discover what this drow’s intentions were. If she spared him, he was certain she had a purpose in doing so. He walked over to where Desprae’s horse was now standing and took hold of the reins. For a moment, he thought about attempting to ride off but decided against it.

Desprae released Rarsirrien, who stepped back and looked in Ealord’s direction. “Who is your new friend?”

Ealord stepped forward. “I’m Ealord, lieutenant Ealord Mawyn of the sixth cavalry of the Duchy of Ulek.”

“Rarsirrien, lieutenant Mawyn of the sixth cavalry. I can see fear in your eyes. No doubt you suspect that your situation has gone from bad to worse?” The man nodded slightly. “Then let me try and put you at some ease.” Rarsirrien reached into his cloak and handed the letters of transit to him.

Ealord took them and opened them. He took a moment to read them, then held the seal up to the sun and examined it before refolding them and handing them back to Rarsirrien. “Your documents appear to be in order. I’m surprised to find a drow in the employment of the Margrave of Bissel.”

“I’ve been given the latitude to employ whomever I deem necessary in order to accomplish my purpose.”

“Which is?”

“My own. If it helps to ease your mind, we are headed in the direction of Hammerfall. I believe you have a garrison there. You are welcome to accompany us to that point.” He turned to Desprae, “I think you are in safe hands; he should know the way to the main road. Once you reach it, follow it westward. We will meet you on it.”

“Aren’t you coming with us?” asked Ealord.

“No. I will go and get the others and let them know I found her and that she is safe. We will meet you on the Silver Path on the way west. Ealord, we are friends of Ulek. Do not try and harm her; she is quite capable of defending herself.”

Ealord wondered if that was a warning or a threat. He nodded and handed the reins over to Desprae. “It’s eighteen miles from here to the road. That’s about five to six hours’ travel from here.”

“We’d better get started then.”

Rarsirrien watched the pair as they road westward and back into the trees in the direction of the Silver Path road. As soon as he was certain they were out of sight, he resumed his dragon form and took flight to rejoin Kirk and Aaron. He had no problem locating them as they hadn’t moved since he had left, but they had broken camp and were ready to start as soon as he landed.

Aaron had spotted Rarsirrien first. After a moment, he could see he was alone and became concerned that he hadn’t been successful at locating Desprae. After he landed, he told them he had located Desprae and that she and her horse had made it through okay. He also mentioned that she was in the company of a member of the Ulek cavalry and that they were heading to the Silver Path and would meet them along the way.

“If we start right now, we should make the road close to the same time as they arrive at our location. They are further north than we are, but they are also closer to the road. We have about thirty miles to cover through forest and hills before we come to it. Unfortunately, I no longer have a way of keeping tabs on things are knowing precisely where we are.”

Kirk walked up to Rarsirrien and held out his hand. In it, he was holding the leather tube that contained Rarsirrien’s magical map. “I might be able to help with that.”

“How —”

“Just before you sent me through, I saw it about to fall out of your cloak. I caught it just as my horse took off through the gate.” Rarsirrien let out a sigh of relief. “She would have had my hide if I had lost this. Especially if I had lost it and someone from the Brotherhood had recovered it.” He placed his hand on Kirk’s shoulder, “Thank you.”

Their special moment was interrupted by Dread Naught’s gruff voice. “Perhaps we should get started.”

Kirk and Aaron were already on their horses. Aaron looked at Rarsirrien and Dread Naught, “I think my horse can manage Rarsirrien and myself, but I doubt Kirk’s can handle his and Dread Naught’s weight.”

The paladin snorted. “Don’t you worry about me. I managed to keep up with you this long. He can ride ahead, I’ll not her far behind.”

Rarsirrien was now up and seated behind Aaron and watched as Dread Naught started off down the mountain towards the forest that lay between them and the Silver Path. He leaned and whispered in Aaron’s ear, “Don’t forget what he is. He doesn’t tire and doesn’t need rest.”

Aaron looked at Rarsirrien, then looked back ahead and started down the mountain, following in the direction of Dread Naught. Even with his superior vision, he was already losing sight of the large man as he plowed through the forest, down the mountain, in the direction of the main road. Even though they could no longer see him, the large paladin left a trail that even the worst tracker could not have missed. It was as if a boulder went crashing its way through the wood. Still, what he lacked in stealth, he made up for in speed. Dread Naught reached the road almost a half hour before the others. He had found an outcropping that overlooked the road where he could remain unobserved to the casual eye.

The others stopped at the edge of the wood and looked over the road in both directions. There was no sign of Desprae and Ealord, nor anyone or anything, in any direction.

Aaron looked over at Rarsirrien. “I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this.”

 [1] Halt! [2] In Lolth’s name, stop! [3] In Lolth’s name, I claim this sacrifice. Return to your children, you shall be honored.


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