“How long have we been travelling?”
“I didn't know the last time you asked me, and I don't know now. It could be weeks, it could be months” Tanc tried not to let the irritation he felt bleed through into his voice, but the young elf with his incessant questions was starting to get on his nerves.
The group had been trapped on the Plane of Shadows for months now, at least, that was the assumption. Time travelled oddly on the Plane of Shadows, and it was hard to tell exactly how much time had passed, and how much longer they had to go before they reached their destination. Tanc found that his nerves frayed easily in this strange, strange place – if he wasn't fielding questions from the ever-curious Rifus, then he was keeping the peace between Nera, the Catfolk sorceress, and Lester, the human paladin whose actions had gotten them into this predicament in the first place. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that he was being plagued by odd dreams – not the nightmares that the Dream Spectre had forced on those who slept, but peculiar nonetheless. He couldn't remember them exactly when he awoke, but he always felt strangely restless after one of them.
Tanc remembered the near-disaster that had come from the encounter with the Dream Spectre because of the delay of those who had experienced the dreams to say anything about them. He opened his mouth to speak, to avoid repeating that mistake, when Lester, the human paladin of the Lord of Light spoke first
“Look ahead, does the path dip into a tunnel there?” he pointed forwards of the vague, dark path they were following. Sure enough, it did appear to become a tunnel, a vast open mouth full of the darkness that already surrounded them; barely affected by the timid light of Lester's light spell, and Tanc's magical ring.
“You're right” he said, holding up one hand to call the others to him, “it does look like there's a tunnel up ahead.”
Elven Rifus, shrouded in his black cloak, blending into this plane more than Tanc was really comfortable with, came floating back into view having wandered on ahead, as was his wont. A minute later, Nera with dark-haired Silver came up and joined them. The two women, one Catfolk, one Elf, made an odd pair. Despite that, they walked with heads close together, talking and occasionally laughing. Tanc decided he didn't particularly want to know what they were talking about; from the look Nera was shooting at Lester, he suspected it was nothing polite.
“Why are we stopping?” Silver asked, squinting into the distance as if to pierce the darkness. In reality, only Rifus, with his darkvision was truly comfortable in this plane. “Have those flakey things stopped moving again?”
“No,” Tanc replied, “it looks like there's a tunnel up ahead.”
“So the snakes are heading into the tunnel?” Nera asked
“Don't know, but that's the direction they're heading in” Tanc answered. “The question is whether or not we want to go in or not.” There was a moment of silence, and then Rifus, youngest of the party, spoke up.
“You know you're just waiting for me to volunteer” he said. “So, off I go, into the wild unknown – without any idea of what awaits me, scarcely able to see, but striding off bravely!”
“You're the only one of us who can see” Silver muttered, at the same instant Nera snorted and said, rather louder
“Don't talk rubbish, you'll go invisible and start flying. No one will be able to see or hear you coming!”
Rifus grinned, suddenly looking altogether far too young,
“Yeah, you're right” he said, and with a faint shimmer, he disappeared.
“Wait!” Silver yelled, “let me cast Message first” she fished a short piece of copper wire out of the pouch at her belt and flicked it in the air, “Message” she cast her spell in her native language, but instantly they were all connected and able to communicate with each other via her.
“He is such an idiot” she muttered under her breath, “and he's jolly lucky he was still in range”
“I haven't actually gone anywhere yet” Rifus' voice came out of nowhere, right next to Silver, speaking directly into her ear. She jumped and aimed a backhanded slap through the air that did precisely nothing. Nothing to Rifus that is, Silver's jump and swipe took her into the path of Nera who was standing slightly behind her, rummaging through her own spell pouch. The Catfolk hissed at her party member, but it turned quickly into a sigh. Silver stepped quickly out of the way and raised an eyebrow at the other woman.
“Greater Invisibility doesn't last long enough” she explained, “I'll just follow him without it.”
“You know you don't have to follow him at all?” Tanc said.
“I know, but I want to” Nera replied, heading off in the direction of the tunnel, that they assumed Rifus had gone in already. Tanc, Silver, and Lester followed slower, and stopped at the entrance to the tunnel, waiting for Rifus or Nera to tell them it was safe to enter.
Rifus flew higher as he moved silently through the tunnel, passing back the information that it appeared to have been constructed, by persons unknown. He reached an open area, and noticed there was some sort of swarming movement below him.
“There's something her- ooohhh” He started reporting back to Silver, but trailed off as his attention was attracted by the movement below him.
“Something?” Silver queried impatiently, “what something?” Lester and Tanc both regarded her curiously, though her only explanation was a rather short and irritable “bloody elf.”
“They're moths” Rifus explained, startling Silver with the sound of his voice in her head, “with lovely patterns, almost hypnotic.”
“Well, don't look at them!” Silver barked at him.
“What is it?” Tanc asked, starting to feel anxious.
“Hypnotic moths apparently” Silver said, the tension in her voice evidence of the strain that came with trying to hold two conversations at once, one of them entirely inside her head. Tanc found himself, and not for the first time, thanking his god that he wasn't a spellcaster, and didn't have to suffer the discomfort that must come with turning oneself into a walking, talking, message centre.
“Hypnotic moths?” Tanc mused, “anything like the ones we encountered in the caves under that Dwarven fortress?”
“That's what it sounds like”
“Good point” Silver murmured, she closed her eyes briefly to pass the word on to Nera
“Nera, there are more of those hypno-moths up ahead, be careful”
The words were barely out of her mouth, when there was the familiar whoosh and rush of hot air they'd come to associate with Nera casting Fireball. Without waiting for any word, Tanc sprinted forward into the tunnel, followed by Lester and Silver. They caught up to Tanc standing next to Nera at the edge of the open space
“What did you do?” Tanc was asking as they reached them.
“They're on the ground, they were in my way” the sorceress replied, “I got rid of them” she sounded immensely pleased with herself. They looked out at the blackened moths, and saw two still moving around,
“Oh, looks like I missed a couple” Nera commented, and with a simple, offhanded gesture she cast the spell again, looking quite delighted at the sight of the silk on fire. She started forward into the open area, when Tanc threw out a hand and stopped her.
“Let me go first” he said, “remember the larvae are almost worse than the moths themselves.” he moved cautiously forwards, and shot an arrow into the pile of smelling, burning silk. The arrow smoothly penetrated the silk, and promptly disappeared. Tanc made a noise of irritation and started forwards to further check the silk, only to have Nera throw out a hand and stop him.
“Allow me” she said smugly, waving one hand in the direction of the silk. Behind them, Silver chuckled, having recognised the gesture. A minute later, Tanc too realised what Nera was doing – her Mage Hand spell easily lifted the silk out of the way, revealing several undeveloped larvae, also dead. Satisfied that it was safe, they all, save Lester, moved forwards and collected the ivory mandibles from the dead moths. Previous experience had shown that the ivory of these moths was extremely valuable, even more so that of the fully developed larvae. The three of them stood up and looked around as Lester moved forwards and joined them.
“Should we not have heard from Rifus? he asked. Silver nodded, and held up one hand for silence as she spoke to Rifus
“Rifus, where are you?”
“In the tunnel, it's turned into a vertical shaft. What's going on with you?”
“We, well, Nera, got rid of the moths down here, she cast Fireball a couple of times. What can you see?”
“Actually, it's opened into a room now – wow, that's a lot of moths.”
“And I can see an archway on the other side of the room.”
“Rifus, how man-”
“Could be tricky getting across, I can't get through without bumping into some of the moths”
“Rifus!” Silver finally snapped, “get back down here so we can talk this over. I'm sick of having to relay everything.”