50th of Vhalar 719
But really the 23rd of Cylus, 913
A missive brought Woe to the western Badlands, beyond the overgrowth of the ruined and disparate settlements that had been the nation of Moseke, that of Desnind. It was written in Vahanic, a language that Woe had only passing competence in understanding, yet one that was swiftly gaining relevance as that reborn nation took its place in the world stage.
Woe traveled along with a caravan. There were a mixed group among them, several traveling performers, others were farmers looking to get into the Quacian Agricultural Works Academy. Then there were the mercenaries, men hired to guard the train and passengers as they made their way through treacherous territory.
There was more than simple predatory animals and greedy bandits about. Rumor had it that the Creep still wandered the lands. Although the Creep Hearts had been eradicated in arcs past, reports still persisted that there were more about. The missive that brought Woe here, told him as such. It read as follows:
Date1st of Cylus 913
To the Honorable Mister Morandi,
We received your latest letter in good health and spirits. The effort to resettle the plenty in the wake of the collapse of 911 has gone well. We thought in ages past that we'd put the scourge of the Etherstorms behind us.
Yet, bedeviled still are we, and all the wells we had on hand weren't enough to forestall the cave-in.
We anticipate your arrival soon, and hope that your journey is as uneventful and boring as possible. There've been some rumors of creep remnants within the western badlands, but these reports are apocryphal at best.
Everyone knows that House Ferahorn has wiped out the last of the creep hearts. If there are any creatures left that are tainted, it's likely that they pose little in the way of thread. Still, some of our more superstitious citizens still hold to the blood rituals, in order to out those Changelings that bear the sap. Yet, no changeling has been seen or heard from in over a half century. You've no need to worry on that account. Things have changed here, my friend.
The following passage was encoded, deciphered by a code that only Woe and the sender knew.
As an aside, we do have it on good intelligence that Labrae has been spotted, with her crows in the Plenty. King Arkenstone has not been informed just yet, and I send this part of the missive to you encoded, and at great peril. Do bring yourself thus, and we will investigate, together.
You really should see Quacia for yourself, see the greenery and the change that has come over our city. You'll be impressed, I think. And we can visit the nearest Opium parlor, while you're here. It'll be like old times...
Always your servant,
Woe folded the note back up, and tucked it into the pocket in his jacket. Then, he hobbled on, following along the train of the caravan. His cane tapped the ground with every step, as he made his way along with the mercenaries.
In the distance, they could see the towering spires of Quacia, although they knew they were still days away. How much the city had grown...
Tucking away the message in his breastpocket, the Webspinner turned his eyes toward the horizon, where the spires and domes of Quacia rose above the jungle below. If Fargis' claims were to be taken seriously, regarding the lingering creep, they'd have to be on their guard. Woe had only taken a token force with him, hunters mostly, and maybe one or two of them were capable fighters. Aside from that, none of them knew the area very well. He had to keep his eyes peeled.
A ruddy, balding soldier walked up beside Woe, giving him a nod in turn. "We're making ready for the march through that brush. It looks to be a few days journey, we can't very well take a carriage through the beaten path. Too many robbers about these days..."
Woe nodded to him, without looking away from the horizon, and Quacia in the distance, "Fine, fine." He muttered. Woe then lifted a hand to his eyes, visoring them against the light of the sun, "Do you think there are creeps out there, and what of the Induk beneath Quacia? I've heard..."
"You mean the Wounded God." The ruddy soldier tilted his head at Woe.
"Yes, of course. Wounded God." Woe uttered, not the least bit impressed with the idea. His spider-web puzzle eyes shone blue in the shade of the waning day, as he looked into the distance. He attuned to his surroundings as they proceeded through the brush. Soldiers and bushmen alike accompanied their party and swept aside the vegetation with their machetes and knives. Woe for his part kept a distance well behind him, not wishing to risk himself in their efforts against the grasping vegetation. While the rumor had it that many of the Creep Hearts had been destroyed, there were still lingering rumors, and reports of missing people who hadn't returned from excursions to the wilderness. Occasionally one would return, but they'd be wrong somehow. And it fell to the Theocratum to bleed them to ensure they were not of the Creep.
The ruddy soldier rode back toward where Woe was walking along, leaning on his cane as he hobbled. "Rand, Sire? Are you sure you won't take a ride? There's room in one of the carts or even in the back of my saddle! You look weary."
Woe frowned at him, grumbling, "Sooner put me out to pasture than stick me in a cart. How do you expect an old man to maintain his legs, if he doesn't use them! Pfah. Bugger off."
So saying, the mortalborn moved forward, entering into the thickets of the jungle, into a gulley that was surrounded by rocks on both sides. The workmen and soldiers were careful about how they proceeded with the carts here. The carriages stopped for the moment. Before long, they were chopping up logs, laying them down over the gulley that blocked their ease of passage.
Woe felt something strange, like a prey animal caught on web, at the edge of his reckoning. He reached out with OmniVision, projecting his senses farther out dousing toward that distant sense of prey stuck on a web. He could feel them on the lattice of reality, not yet encroaching on their position, but definitely there. Eight-legged monstrosities, these were no prey animals, but they had predation on their thoughts. Woe could sense their desperate and thorough malice toward anything that moved.
Creepborne spiders, from the smallest to the largest, were a constant danger in the jungle. Often a live spider would nest near to chambers where Creep Hearts were often found. It was a simple matter for those sentient plants to coopt their physiology for their use.
Woe was ready for them to spring the trap, yet remained still, watching as the men built their bridge. He said nothing to warn them. Truth be told if a soldier couldn't keep alert, what use was he even? A general could not always stand at the vanguard of their army. And the dark masters of the arachnids could not always be arsed, one would think, with every scrap of knowledge and intelligence passing through their webs.
The first attack was sudden, as an eight-legged creature jumped one of the soldiers laying down beams to build the bridge. Woe serenly flew into action, drawing his arcanically enhanced whip from the cane's shaft. It was nearly four feet in length when uncoiled, and made of ribbon-like tienite. The tienite glowed with blue ephemeral glow.
Woe spun into action, limber for an old man, and ready for the nearest spider to jump at him. He whipped the arcane flail at the creature, which diced it and bisected it into four separate pieces. The Ruddy soldier swept through, saving Woe from another that jumped up behind him, and tried to take him from below. The Ruddy soldier's horse tramped this creature in a single pass, after which Woe decided to put it out of its misery permanently.
He kept hoping against reason that someone would muster the courage to hold the rest of the creep spiders off. Yet it was left to him and the Ruddy soldiers to beat these things back, as the civilians and workmen got decimated by the scores of arachnids.
"Is this some revenge of Sintra! Some sort of test?"
Woe shook his head, snapping his whip horizontally, cutting the legs out from under a jumping arachnid. "These are creepborne! I thought they'd dealt with all the Creep Hearts!"
The Ruddy soldiers swept his saber across spider after spider, not yet touched by one of them to where he would become infected by their vile poison and corruptive influence. One of them jumped up onto the rump of the soldier's horse, which Woe swept aside with a sweep of his arcanically enhanced flail.
"I believe we'll have to take away without the rest of the caravan!" the Ruddy soldier intoned, reaching a hand for Woe to take, so he could take up the seat behind him. The Mortalborn reluctantly accepted, and so they rode through the chaos, sweeping aside arachnids where they could and killing them when necessary.
Before the break was done, they'd ride to the gates of Quacia, and find it not quite as welcoming as they expected.