With the ettercap slain, it took just a minute to get Peep back up on the tower staircase. Dangling over the side in the ettercap’s web, she was able to slowly work herself free enough to reach up so that Choke could grab her hand and pull her up. Then all three of them lay exhausted on the steps and bled silently for a good long while.
The fight with the ettercap in its tower lair had taken a toll. Peep was the most lightly touched up, with a deep gouge in her leather armor at her right shoulder leading to a nasty cut across the top of her right bicep. Choke had a number of deep cuts on both arms, and another on his leg, from the ettercap’s pincers. Pinch had just the one wound, where the monster’s pincers had snipped through his armor at his shoulder, but it was deep.
“Do you have any more healing in your hands?” Choke asked Peep when he finally pushed himself up on an elbow to look over Pinch, who was curled up in a ball and bleeding a worrying amount.
Peep flexed her right hand and stared at the Stronian Wheel on her palm.
“No. That’s it for now. Maybe tomorrow, ye say?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Probably. That’s how lay on hands healing works for paladins, anyway. What about Knuckle up there?” Choke asked casting his gaze upward to their friend dangling from the ceiling with the ettercap’s other meals.
Peep grunted. “Well, he’s alive or he isn’t. If he’s alive, he aint going anywhere. And he aint near the steps up there, so it’s going to take some real doing to get him down. We gotta get ourselves right before we can do anything for him.”
Peep stared contemplatively up at the dangling, still form of their friend for a moment. Then something seemed to occur to her.
“Hey, Knuckle!” she shouted up at him. “Dunno if yar alive or what, but we killed the motherfucker! We’ll get ye down when we can! Hang in there!”
Peep grinned at Choke and giggled. “Ye hear what I just said to him? I told him to hang in there! Ha!”
“Okay, then,” Choke sighed as he sat up and took his pack off.
Choke helped Pinch out of his armor as Peep opened up their medical kit. Both Choke and Peep were dripping blood as they worked, but Pinch had to be their first priority. Peep rinsed out his wound a little with a waterskin and smeared it with a honey based medicinal salve. Then she packed it with gauze and tightly bandaged it over the shoulder and across Pinch’s chest through the opposite armpit.
While Peep did this, Choke rinsed out his own wounds and smeared them with the salve. Then Peep did the same with her wound. Following this, and against Choke’s protestations, Peep took almost an hour to stitch up all his wounds properly. She made a fine job of it.
“You’re good at this,” Choke conceded as she was finishing with his bandages.
“Yeah. I’m good at a lot of shit. It’s just because I’m awesome!” she said with her trademark cheeky grin.
“Okay, do you want me to stitch you up?” Choke asked her.
“Ye any good at it? I don’t want ye to butcher me,” she said sharply. Looking her wound over carefully, she shook her head. “Nah. The honey’s got it plugged up for now. And it aint too deep. It’ll keep until we can get back to the Ungers. Someone there will know what they’re about with a needle, I’m sure.”
Peep picked up Pinch’s shortsword and went all the way down to the main floor to see about getting hers back from the ettercap corpse. It took some doing, with her having to gingerly clamber through the horrifying mess of web-encrusted, desiccated animal corpses to get to it, but was lucky to find that it had fallen in a way to leave the sword hilt sticking out of its back accessible. She pulled her shortsword from the monster with a shudder and got back up to Choke and Pinch as quickly as she dared.
Choke sat staring off into space with a haunted look. Pinch had curled back up into a ball, looking almost like he was ready to start sucking his thumb. The smell of Pinch’s shit hung heavy over them.
“Okay, I’m gonna go get Unger,” Peep said.
“What?” Choke said with a startle, his eyes finally focusing out of his thousand-yard stare.
“Unger. I’m gonna go get him. We’re gonna need his help to get Knuckle back.”
“But… but he said he wouldn’t come in here,” Choke said.
“Well, we killed the baddy, right? If he aint gonna come in here now to help us get Knuckle back, then he’s a coward that aint good for shit. And Unger don’t seem like that type to me. So I’ll go get him. We’ll be right back.”
“Wait. Do you think we should spilt up like that? There might be more monsters in here,” said Choke.
“Well, if there are, they didn’t get their shit together to attack when we were laying here with our asses hanging out. I think that’s that. At least up top here. But we shouldn’t leave Knuckle, or this sloppy bitch alone,” Peep said, gesturing to Pinch. “Just sit tight and I’ll be right back.”
With Peep gone, Choke loaded both the crossbows and sat on the third-story landing with Pinch, who remained completely insensible. After what seemed like an eternity, Peep returned with Unger. The big ranger had his warbow at the ready, and looked terrified as he entered the tower. Even so, he followed Peep up the stairs without hesitation.
“Stron preserve us,” Unger murmured as he beheld the tower’s horrors from the landing. Then he crouched down to have a good look at Pinch. “He was poisoned?”
“Yeah, but Stron seemed to clean that outta him when I asked,” Peep said. “He was moving around okay until we got jacked by the spider monster just here. Didn’t catch any poison that time, I reckon, so I guess he just had his limit.”
“Seems so,” Unger said gently. He rubbed Pinch on the shoulder and back. “Okay, soldier, let’s get ye up and outta here. Okay?”
Unger slung his bow over his shoulder and nodded for Choke to help him. The two of them got Pinch upright between them. With their strong support, he seemed like he would be able to move.
“Hand me his gear, would ye?” Unger said to Peep, holding out his free hand for Pinch’s leather armor, quiver, and bow case. Peep handed it to him and then sheathed Pinch’s shortsword on his hip and put his bow away in the case.
“Sit tight here and I’ll be right back. I’m just going to the tower entrance,” Unger said to Peep.
Unger helped Pinch down and out of the tower with Choke. Outside in the fresh air and bright sunshine, Pinch recovered a little more.
“Okay. Bartholomew,” Unger said to Choke. “Ye go out exactly the way ye came in. We have to assume there’s more webs all over the place. And maybe more big spiders, too. Take him up to the crick under my blind and get him cleaned up. When he’s gotten his feet under him a bit more, he’ll be happy ye did before anyone else sees he shit himself. There’s no shame in it, but not everyone understands that. Right?” Unger looked at Choke significantly before continuing:
“Once he’s cleaned up, ye take him back to my place and hand him over to the womenfolk. Then tell Aaron and Munn to come back here with ye. We’re gonna want some axes, rope, and a cask of rapeseed oil. And ye come back in the same way as ye did before. Right?”
Choke nodded and he and Pinch left up the trail, heading for the creek. Unger went back into the tower. He and Peep cleared the stairs all the way up to the rooftop, with Peep feeling for webs with her force shield as before. They encountered none until right at the top.
The ettercap’s home web was quite a bit more visible than the entrapping ones had been. Set between the wall and ceiling directly opposite the roof exit, it was almost a funnel. Up close now, they could see that Knuckle was indeed still alive. He was able to look at them, wild-eyed, while he mouthed nonsense at them with his slack, drooling mouth. He still had a number of rather large spiders crawling around on him.
Peep and Unger stood on the staircase staring at Knuckle and took their time figuring out a plan. With it settled, Peep went up onto the rooftop where she made sure it was clear of any webs. Up on top was the arrow-riddled corpse of the monstrous spider that the ettercap had left. She stabbed it a couple of times for good measure. While she attended to this, Unger stayed inside on the staircase and uncoiled the rope the squad had brought with them. He and Peep tied it securely to one of the squared crenelles on the roof nearest the exit. Unger cut a length off the other end for Peep to rig into a climbing harness. Then he coiled the rest on the stairs and the two sat down to wait for the others.
It took about half an hour for Choke, Aaron, and Munn to come. Choke reported that the lad, Chris, had arrived back at the Unger compound from his errand of reporting their position to Father Nate in Callic village. Choke had sent him right back to give word they had slayed the monster of the Old Mill and would likely need serious healing when they recovered Knuckle.
It was decided that with all his stitched-up cuts, Choke should not exert himself too much, lest he pop his sutures. He was stationed at the top of the stairs with the crossbows to keep Knuckle company. Then Peep, Unger, Aaron, and Munn went to work outside.
In the clearing, Unger took up a position with his warbow to cover everyone. While Peep moved around the clearing cutting whatever webs she could find, the father-son duo of Aaron and Munn went to work with the axes, chopping off all the lower branches from the stand of pine trees. They were experienced lumberjacks, used to harvesting trees to be turned into bows by Munn. By the time they had cleared the branches, Peep declared the clearing around the tower to be free of webs. With Unger still covering them with his bow, Peep, Aaron, and Munn dragged as many cut pine boughs as they could carry into the tower and up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, it was a simple enough matter to lay the pine boughs down across the lower strands of the ettercap’s web. When they had made a sort of unstable platform, Peep rigged up a climbing harness attached to the rope they had secured to the crenelle up on the roof. With Choke up top feeding slack around the crenelle, Unger stayed on the stairs and tended to the rope, making sure it did not tangle or get fouled up on anyone or anything.
With Aaron and Munn handing Peep more pine boughs as she needed them, Peep extended her platform until it was right underneath Knuckle. There were more than a few wobbly moments, where Peep had to drop to her hands and knees to keep from falling, but she managed without too much trouble.
When Peep finally reached Knuckle, she drew her shortsword to take care of the apple-sized spiders crawling all over him. She smacked with the flat, or sliced and scraped with the edge, until he was clear.
“Uhhh gla uhhhh blugh a gla!” Knuckle exclaimed at her, with long, ropey strands of spit and sputum dangling from his chin.
“Yeah, I hear ye buddy. I got ye!” Peep answered as she straightened up to look him in the eye. When she did, she could not suppress a flinch of horror as she saw his face clearly. “Woah! Dood! Oh fuck me!” she yelled.
“Uuuuuhhh a glaaaa-aaahhh!” Knuckle hollered back.
“What!” Unger yelled from the staircase.
“Shit! He’s all melting, like a candle, or some shit! Fuck!”
“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!” Knuckle yelled.
Aaron threw Peep a coil of rope that they had secured to a second crenelle up top. She tied Knuckle securely with it, winding it around and around him. With that done, she slashed the web strands that bound Knuckle to the ceiling.
Knowing full well that she lacked the strength to catch a fully-mailed Knuckle, Peep just ducked into a crouch out of the way as he fell. Knuckle came straight down on the landing pad of pine boughs, and went right through it. The rope he trailed pulled taught as he disappeared through the pine boughs and was yanked through the improvised walkway as he swung towards the wall under the stairs. With the pine platform destroyed and the web swaying wildly, Peep kept her balance just long enough for Knuckle to get clear before she let herself fall into the gap he had made.
Thankfully, Unger knew ropework well and he and Munn had kept both Knuckle’s and Peep’s lines well clear of each other. Up top, Aaron was on Knuckle’s rope, looped around its crenelle, and Choke was still on Peep’s.
Unfortunately, all their careful preparations were not able to prevent Knuckle swinging to smash hard into the stone wall under the staircase. Of course, Peep hit as well, just a second after Knuckle and about a meter to his left. However, she was somewhat in control of her descent and was able to cushion the blow with her boots and one upraised arm. Even so, she gave an irate scream in pain as she bounced away from the wall.
Up top, Choke had no problem holding on to Peep’s line. Aaron was managing Knuckle’s, but just barely. Choke called down the stairs for help, and Munn came right up to help his son, taking up position on the rope just behind him. While they did this, Unger ran down the stairs until he was at the spot directly underneath Peep and Knuckle.
Being fine Dwarven stonework, the staircase was expertly extended out from the inner wall, with angled stone braces supporting it every few meters. This meant that as Kuckle and Peep stopped swinging, they were dangling out in space about two meters away from the wall. This was the width of the stairs above, with their ropes being taught over its edge.
However, this was no problem. When he was underneath Peep and Knuckle, Unger called for Choke to lower Peep to him. He pulled her safe and sound onto the stairs next to him.
“Ye okay?” he asked.
“Broke my fuckin ankle,” she hissed as she untied herself from the rope.
“I wonder if we killed him,” Unger muttered with a grimace as he looked up at Knuckle’s swaying, web and rope festooned carcass above.
When they had him lowered to them, Peep and Unger discovered that Knuckle was still alive. They had, of course, been worried about just such an incident, so Peep had done her best to secure his rope so that he would swing from around his shoulders. This way, they had avoided smacking his head straight into the wall. However, wherever he had taken the hit, he was now unconscious. There was no way to tell just how many bones he might have broken.
Unger untied Knuckle from the rope, but left him bound in the ettercap webs. Aaron, Munn, and Choke had run down the stairs to join them, so Unger assigned Aaron and Munn to get Knuckle outside. They awkwardly carried him down the stairs and out the door. Peep hopped onto Choke’s back to be piggybacked out.
While they all went down the stairs carefully, Unger went back up and collected all their rope. He took the time to coil it properly. Then he hurried down the long, spiral staircase through the ettercap’s lair and followed them outside.