Part 2: Of Cows & Spiders

The party's rooms are sumptuous, beds filled with down from birdfolk. Stinky naps for a couple of hours and then starts insisting on heading out for a bite to eat, followed by an exploration of the other attractions in town, particularly the museum. Uusi decides to stay behind.

When they leave the hotel they immediately cross paths with a food cart vendor hawking his wares, soup and spider meat. He is a grey creature with oversized arms, an undersized body and three eyes - lilac, green and blue. Stavroula asks him what the hell he is. He names himself the "AWAKENED stone WYATT". Stinky decides to try some spider meat, reasoning that it's probably similar to crab meat, but she lowers her voice so Bikini Crab can't hear. Rikkard has had enough of eating spiders after being stranded in the jungle, so he orders some soup. While providing her with the spider meat, Wyatt informs her that they're locally sourced. It seems he catches them by crushing them with his boulder head. Stavroula says he's very loud for a rock as she bites into her spider meat, and he calls her a 'penguin'. She corrects him and says she's "either a goat or a sheep, it's kind of unclear".

Wyatt asks her how the meat is and explains that he caught the spider trying to steal a child from the outskirts of town. Rikkard finds this fact concerning and is interested in assisting with the spider problem, asking for the soup to-go. Wyatt says that the soup is either served directly into the customer's mouth from a ladle, or poured into an empty spider carapace. Rikkard says to "act quickly" and opens his mouth to receive the ladle of soup. Wyatt obliges him, pouring three spoonfuls of soup into the primordian's mouth and then blows on it. Rikkard enjoys the taste but required Stavroula to heal the resulting mouth burns.

Ardesco catches up to them and expresses admiration for Rikkard's brave boiling soup drinking. Stinky and Rikkard thank Wyatt and say their farewells. Rikkard picks Stinky up under an arm and hustles away. Ida arrives and asks for "spider butt", explaining that she's been a spider enough times she knows exactly what parts are the tastiest. Wyatt gives her the butt for free as she seems to be an associate of Ardesco's.

Rather than heading toward the museum, the party move north to the edge of town. A sign reads "DANGER AHEAD: SAECOTO FOOTHILLS". A gated path leads further into pastures where four different species of cows are grazing - Saecotoan Beastcows (potential werecows), Saecotoan Flathoof (actually cardboard cutouts used to make the fields look more populated), Saecotoan Mountain Moos and Saecotoan Milkies. Stinky asks Tor if he's part-cow due to his horns. He reminds her that he's a firbolg, but supposes that there are probably people who superficially resemble cows in the same way that she resembles a goat or sheep.

Rikkard scans the horizon for any sign of spiders or wandering children but only notices cows - he becomes distracted by a cow wandering up to the fence and pats its nose. Ardesco similarly investigates the area and finds skitter marks and welts in the dirt, as if someone with a large bouldery head was chasing after a spider. He soon finds a single small shoe. Some of the cows seem agitated and are bellowing urgently. Stavroula thinks it's sad that there must be someone walking around with only one shoe on. Ardesco points out that they could only have one leg. Stavroula mentions that would make them barefoot, which she knows is illegal in some country but she doesn't know which. Rikkard informs her it's Ria'Tal'Uth, the elven capital.

Ida uses locate object with the shoe in hand, trying to find its pair. Instead, she senses the presence of many, many other shoes just like it in the city behind them. Tor stares at the werecow, which appears as an ordinary cow but with humanoid front-facing eyes, and advises Ida to use her druidic abilities to question them. Ida tunes into the animals around her. One cow tells her: "Gate, come, little beast, carried too many legs. I take you". Another cow says there's no point in going, because surely the "little beast" is eaten. A nearby dung beetle yells at them to stop stepping on their dung balls.

Ida relays this information to the others. Rikkard and Stavroula both agree that they should follow the cow - even if they're too late to save the child, it's unusual that giant spiders would come so close to civilization. Tor agrees because he doesn't want any of the cows to get eaten either, explaining that he thinks this is because they're cute and not because he has any special kinship with them while looking at Stavroula pointedly.

The cow allows Ida and Stavroula to mount her and breaks into a bumpy gallop. Ida is able to ride the cow without issue, but Stavroula eventually loses her grip and is bucked off. Rikkard manages to mostly keep pace running behind the cow and deftly catches her. Ardesco had also tried, but was paralyzed by a side-stitch. They run for about ten minutes until they reach a river. The cow takes a break to drink, then tells Ida that they must cross the river. Stavroula casts water walk to simplify the process. On the other side of the river, the cow comes to a halt at the mouth of a cave. The cave seems to only be a short tunnel - the party can see the exit out to the other side.

Rikkard is curious about whether this tunnel is where the spiders brought the children. Ida relays the question. The cow says to walk through it to get to the "nice hills", and they should be able to see evidence of the spiders. Rikkard and Ardesco examine the ground and find eight evenly-spaced prints that match a spider's gait. Rikkard also finds a milkweed, eating one half and offering the other to the cow. They continue through the tunnel and to the hills ahead.

They continue walking uphill for quite some time. The cow slips a few times on a steep incline but forges forward. It leads Rikkard, Tor and Ardesco over a narrow plateau and up into an altitude high enough where there's snow cover. Ardesco asks how high they are and Rikkard answers that it's many feet. Stavroula doesn't have 'feet' as such, but she's still better at feet ball than Ardesco or her other companions.

They are confronted by an extremely sheer climb. Stavroula enters goatmode and is able to walk up the wall with ease, hooves finding even the smallest projections of rock to use as if they were stairs. Tor uses his strength to help the exhausted cow ascend and Rikkard calls upon his ethereal sandy arms to take up some of the cow's weight.

Tor and Ida have no issues with the cold and altitude. Ardesco's flaming hair is stuttering and getting smaller. Rikkard and Ardesco are frost-nipped but Stavroula is immediately not coping with the cold. She wraps herself up in a blanket from her pack and Ida rushes over to add her fur cloak. Rikkard picks her up and hands her to Tor, hoping he will keep her off the ground and lend her some body heat. This annoys Ardesco, who feels he is being undercut in coming to Stavroula's rescue again.

Rikkard suggests Ardesco ride on his back and share his natural fire primordian warmth. He agrees and is easily carried. The two walk for a while and are faring better. All of a sudden, Ardesco suggests switching. He dismounts Rikkard and offers his back. Ardesco crumples immediately when Rikkard tries to jump on. They both fall to the ground and get drenched in snow, growing colder.

The party spot a house about 60 feet away. Smoke billows from the chimney and light music can be heard from within. They beeline for it and Rikkard knocks on the door. The music stops abruptly and a male orc answers the door with confusion. Stavroula frees her face from her blanket and cloak cocoon, explaining that the cow led them here. She petitions him to allow them inside and he agrees, but is delighted by the sight of the cow, thanking them for "bringing dinner". Stavroula wails in protest but allows herself inside. She lays in front of the fireplace and falls asleep instantly.

Everyone else files in and the orc sits, strumming his lyre. Rikkard asks if he's seen evidence of giant spiders spiriting children away. He says he hears skittering noises at all hours of the day and recently, crying children as well, but he cannot help them unless they asked to be helped, because he has been to therapy and is working on his boundaries. The orc offers to loan his jackets to the party to keep them warm in the climate and asks for their names.

When it's his turn to offer his, he introduces himself as Ben Dryker. Ardesco blanches, as it's a name only one letter off Ben Drider, the person he's been searching after for ten years. Ben Dryker offers to assist with the party's quest as he doles out his cloaks. He explains that his father was Ben Dreder, and his father's father was Ben Droder. Ardeso asks why their surnames changed but their first names stayed the same. Ben says because it'd be too confusing if they were all Ben Droder.

Ardesco finally asks if he knows a Ben Drider. Ben Dryker says nobody's talked about him, so he must not be of their family or if he is, he's estranged. He throws a cloak at Ardesco and Ardesco catches it with incredible agility. Rikkard brags in the stead of his new friend, mentioning his statue by the cranberry bog. Ben blushes and identifies him as "the ball man", referring to the fact that Ardesco's statue seems to suggest he's gifted with prodigious testicles. Rikkard finds this very funny and hadn't noticed this feature before. Ben is eager to rush to the spider's den and picks up most of the party, leaving the cow and Ida behind in his cabin to rest.

The spider's den isn't far and they soon arrive. Rikkard, Stavroula and Tor can't see well in the dark but they can all make out the shape of eight children trapped in spider webbing. Rikkard surges forward and tries to free one of them, becoming stuck in the process, but Ben is able to pull him free. Able to see in the dark, Ardesco is horrified at something he can see in the distance. He tries to court Stinky's attention and pantomimes, attempting to describe a truly gigantic gigantic spider at the back of the cave. Stavroula thinks that could be a lot of meat, and Ardesco facepalms.

Multitudes of smaller spiders try to attack the party. Stavroula goes to hurl a bolt of magic at one of them, but when she sees the number of them coming toward the party she instead consecrates the ground and summons her guardian angels, ordering them to kill every spider they can reach in the area. The 'children' burst open, revealing that these children are already deceased and nothing but clumps of cloth, bone and juvenile spiders.

Ardesco steps forward and casts charm monster, telling the giant spider that the party is not its enemy. The attempt is successful and it 'smiles', wiggling its fangs and calling off the assault of the smaller spiders. It retreats further into the cave and beckons with a limb for Ardesco to follow, wiggling its abdomen and initiating a mating dance. While the spider is distracted, Rikkard attempts to cut Tor free of some webbing he's caught within.

Stavroula is surprised that Ardesco managed to call off the spider, reasoning it must be because he's become good friends with all the bog spiders. Ardesco is still stupefied by the turn of events and stutters, trying to turn the spider down because he "has a race he needs to get to". Rikkard bolsters the claim and says that Ardesco is "a skilled racist". Ardesco hisses at Rikkard, telling him that's not the correct word.

Ben, Rikkard and Stavroula all rally behind him - Ben encourages him forward, Stavroula says she believes in him and Rikkard loans a sword. Ardesco mutters a flat "thanks" and moves to the spider, dragging the sword behind him. The spider wiggles and pauses as if inviting him to follow. Having only two legs instead of eight, Ardesco flails around and fails to follow the pattern. Sensing that the ritual is going south, Stavroula moves closer to Ardesco to cast guidance. At the last moment, Ardesco finds his stride and successfully dances back to the spider (while being confused and horrified that nobody is trying to defeat it, escape or stop him). As if sensing his thoughts, Stavroula says she just wants to "see what will happen".

Stavroula's angels are still hovering around and one of the juvenile spiders accidentally walks into the circle, triggering one to lop off one of its legs. It shrieks in pain and snaps the giant spider out of its charm, causing it to attack. It swipes at Ardesco and sends him flying into the cave wall, damaging him severely.

Tor, Rikkard and Stavroula all attack. Tor uses his giant magic to become large enough to wrestle the giant spider into Stavroula's circle, where it is savaged by her angels. Bleeding heavily and stumbling from the shadows, Ardesco manages to pick himself up and cast a fireball on the spider. Rikkard notices Ben Dryker struggling with waves of the smaller spiders and tries to move him out of harm's way. Tor lands the killing blow with a swing of his war pick.

With the danger abated, Stavroula fully heals Ardesco. Ardesco indicates he heard crying from the back of the cave and leads the others. There, they find many wriggling cocoons of spider silk. Rikkard claws through layers of webbing and finds an emaciated child inside, still alive. The party set to open all of the bundles of silk - about ten of them are actual children, another three are revealed to be even more spider egg sacs. Ben Dryker isn't fond of children but agrees to help carry some of them out if they can be wrapped up in blankets so they don't struggle or touch him. He offers his boat to the party and tells him the fastest way back down to Saecoto is to ride the river down to the bog, but they must retrieve Ida and the cow from his cabin first.