Chapter 59: The Lair Mistress

The smell of sulphur burned in Loral's nose. It had been a decade since the cleric of Tunare last visited the molten lands of Lavastorm. Eruptions of liquid rock burned over the ground building mountains and tearing open chasms in a matter of hours. Indeed, the lands of Lavastorm were almost unrecognizable to Loral since his last visit.

The hostile environment did not detract from the land's recent popularity. The gnomes broke the protective shell of ancient rock that hid the Broodlands from mortal eyes for thousands of years. Adventures far and wide traveled to the rumors of treasure and adventure held within.

A half circle of carts outlined the camp of Norrath's Keepers. Loral found this group a refreshing change from the bureaucrats of Felwithe. The Keepers did not shackle action with talk, policy, and doctrine. The Keepers hired adventurers to investigate the Broodlands and they paid well.

The land was a melting pot of the societies of Norrath. The Keepers operated from the north western caverns, the agents of the Ebon Hand operated out of the other. Adventurers from all cities traveled through. Even a camp of Mordin Rasp's Wayfarers found a campsite overlooking a huge lake of lava.

A huge hand crashed down on Loral's golden shoulder plate. Loral turned and met the grin of Garmok the Warlord. The huge ogre roared in laughter at Loral's wince. The damage to his shoulder aside, Loral was glad to see the powerful blademaster. Black armor runed and etched with powerful magic covered Garmok's arms and chest. A spiked mace and a hammered steel longsword hung from his wide leather belt. Garmok's legs, thick as tree trunks and rippling with muscle, remained bare. Garmok had an almost allergic reaction to pants, trousers, or greaves of any sort claiming the lack of pants gave him much increased mobility.

Loral had seen the huge knight cleave and smash through the Muramite Legions of Taelosia and Kuua like a rolling mountain of sharp steel. He had cleaved an Aneuk priest in half at the waist. He had crushed the skull of an enormous Bazu of Kuua with his mace. Once Loral had seen Garmok kill a Kyv archer with a single well-placed headbutt.

The rumor of high adventure and treasure must have been grand indeed to summon a warlord as powerful as Garmok. Loral saw the two dozen adventurers behind the mountainous warlord.

"I must be off, friend priest. Wish us luck for we have found dragonsign in the Broodlands!"

Loral whispered a prayer for his friend as the warrior left for the deep caverns of Lavastorm with two dozen other adventurers.

"Perhaps Lord Brell will bless us all by rewarding the ogre a pair of trousers."

Loral laughed and turned to Stonehewer's familiar voice. The dwarven paladin leaned over the planted blade of his great sword. Each half of his forked beard draped over the enchanted blade's crossguard. Firelight reflected off of his blue enameled armor. Juror, the leader of Loral's guild and mystic of Halas stood with the dwarf. Next to the huge barbarian stood Illiane the elven wizard, Inks the shadowy dark elf necromancer, and Sadyenfur the elven ranger of the Faydark.

"Come elf," Juror said with his deep and wise voice. "We have work to do."

The six adventurers traveled within the caverns of the Ascent like specks of blue and red and gold on the dark rocks of the mountain spire. Wild beasts, isolated from the rest of Norrath for a thousand years, attacked with a strength and power beyond the other beasts of Norrath. A huge white puma pounced thirty feet in the air in an attempt to tear into Loral's soft flesh but found the point of Stonehewer's blade as the dwarf impaled it.

A huge golem of stone and ancient iron, face eerily calm but eyes burning red with intent, crashed into the party. Blades and arrows chipped away at the stone while acid and flame burned away at its body. In under two minutes the beast had been burned down to gray slag. Only a single iron hand clawing out of the charred earth remained.

The clicking of claws on stone began to fill the air. Two large spiders, open eyes shining black, rushed at the party. They were huge, with mouthes wide and dripping with poison and a pair of mandibles as sharp as swords. A pair of arrows streamed from Sadyenfur's bow, blinding one of the creatures. Lightning raked over the creature's shell and it cracked open pouring hot liquid over the stone ground.

The second spider lept on eight long legs and crashed on Loral. Loral held back the two mandibles that ripped at the cleric. Acidic drool fell on Loral's armor. The noxious smell choked the cleric and burned his eyes.

Fire and hatred flowed into Loral. His eyes blazed white. Loral rammed a gauntleted hand into the beast's mouth and a string of darkspeech flowed from the cleric's lips. Never before had an elven mouth whispered such dark phrases.

Juror's own spell died on his lips and Stonehewer stopped his relentless attack on the bloated spider. Both the dwarf and the barbarian turned in shock at the sound of the dark voice and the language it spoke. The words themselves formed the sounds of evil, sending shivers over the skin of any mortal creature who heard them. They were the words of the demon princes; of Lord Xuzl of the Plane of Fire.

A deep rumble quaked within the rock cavern walls. The giant spider's black eyes seemed to grow wide and filled with terror. The back of th creature's wide head cracked open and a beam of red light shot into the sky. Black blood boiled and thick ooze gushed out of the wide hole in the creature's oversized head. Loral kicked the husk of the dead creature and stood. The eyes of his friends did not leave him.

An inhuman scream from deeper within the caverns of the Ascent broke their attention.

For seven hundred years, the Lair Mistress ruled the spiders of the Ascent. The strongest female spider of an ancient brood, the Lair Mistress was second only to the great lavaspinner queens from deep under the earth. The goblin scribes, lorekeepers of the ancient dragons of the north, whisper that a drop of pure dragonblood flows within the Lair Mistress's huge body.

The roar of the ancient beast sent rocks tumbling. Old air filled with the smell of decaying meat wafted from the shadows of the large cavern.

Stonehewer turned to the others in the party and gave them a wink. Never before had they turned down the excitement of adventure and they would not start this day. Loral shivered. One day that tug of adventure might lead to their deaths.

Stonehewer led the others into the dark cavern, the white light of his blade illuminating the swallowing black shadows. The cave opened wider into a large cavern open to the night sky. Curled within a crevice, her legs gripping the edges, the blazing eyes of the fiendish ancient spider beheld the slayer of her brood.

Simultaneous chanting from Loral, Juror, Illiane, and Inks called spells that shielded, armored, and protected the party. Sadyenfur knocked two barbed arrows. With a word of command, the steel arrowheads glowed red and burst into white and blue flame. Stonehewer drew a square shield from his back etched and runed with the symbols of the ancient dragorn spellwielders. He drew a longsword from his wide leather belt and on a word of command, the blade burned with green light.

The Lair Mistress had faced mortals before, however. Once a demon-touched dire puma and her tribe of sabretooths had corned and battled the venerable spider queen. She had feasted well that day. Short of the dragon's themselves, the Lair Mistress feared no one.

Sadyenfur did not wait for the fiendish creature to attack. The elven ranger fired two blazing arrows with two more right behind them. The first two arrows chipped off of the Lair Mistress's thick shell but two bit deep. The Lair Mistress screamed and attacked.

Razor sharp claws on the end of twelve-foot long legs tore at the party. Stonehewer stood in front, taking much of the damage, but the Lair Mistress's great reach put everyone within her grasp.

Bolts of fire roared from Illiane's palms, burning the creature's huge body. Dark words left Ink's iksar tongue like snakes and the shadows of the cavern came alive. The shadows, one of them shaped like a huge long-dead puma, ripped into the exoskeleton of the ancient queen with ethereal claws and teeth. Waves of healing light flowed from Loral's hands, closing the terrible wounds inflicted upon Stonehewer the Lord Protector. Juror called out to the ancient spirits and they responded with waves of poison filling the black blood of the great spider.

With a cry to Brell, Stonehewer stabbed his shining longsword into the creature's huge black eye and deep into her skull. With a final shudder, the Lair Mistress of the Ascent fell dead.

The slayers of the great spider returned to the caverns of Norrath's Keepers. They enjoyed a fine meal and a frosty beverage that night. They laughed and bantered and boasted. Loral sat leaning against the cavern's rock wall carefully penning words into a small black-skinned book with a silver and onyx pen he had purchased from a world-traveling gnome in the bazaar. While joy filled their hearts, the eyes of the other adventurers kept the cleric in view. Echoes of a dark language still echoed in their ears.