The Group escorts civilians away from Cragmaw and stops to help a small town. Arya seduces both a Mayor and the DM.
Planting 7-9, 591 CY
With Cragmaw Castle collapsing into a pile of ruin and death behind them, the Group pauses within the edges of the treeline to figure out their next move. The most direct route to Phandalin is back the way they came -- but their memories of the strange, unsettling encounters they experienced inside the Whispering Woods don't leave them eager to take those paths again. Instead, Arya suggests cutting to the southeast, into the Dim Forest and towards a small village she knows called Loggerton. It's on the main road leading north to Phandalin and south to the treetop village of Dimhaven. If they can make it to Loggerton, the Group can catch their breath, resupply if needed, and then head north to their home.
With all in agreement, they set out, the morning sun still relatively low in the eastern sky. Still sore from the protracted battles of the day before and exhausted from the lack of sleep during the passage through the Whispering Woods, the Group is grateful that the trip to Loggerton over the next day is uneventful. However, as they begin to approach the walled logging town, they soon begin to suspect that trouble has followed them -- or rather preceded them, because clearly all is not well in Loggerton.
Signs of recent battles can be found around the town's outskirts. Tired, wounded guards patrol the walls and oversee burials of several bodies in the fields beyond. Occasional sprays of dried blood still mar the wooden fence and spatter the dirt trails. The guards, while giving Dook a double-take, nevertheless wave the Group inside, clearly possessing neither the numbers nor the will to pick a fight with a band of heavily armed adventurers.
Kyffin asks one of the guards what ails the town. The guard just waves him on, telling him to "go ask the Mayor." Another guard adds, "Long as you lot got less than eight legs, you'll get no trouble from me. Move along."
Inside the walls of Loggerton, the Group begins to meet some of the locals, soon learning the truth: for weeks now, the town has been under steady assault by giant spiders. They attack from the surrounding woods, fight until driven back, and then return within a night or two to do it all over again. The guard force is diminished and disheartened, the townsfolk are grieving, and several of the locals are missing but not necessarily dead -- dragged off by the spiders rather than killed outright.
They meet a farmer named Bruno who tells them of his missing son Hector. He believes with all his heart that Hector still lives, and offers to pay the Group what little reward he can if they can retrieve the boy.
Eventually arriving at the Mayor's home, a large mansion with a drawbridge and surrounding moat at the center of the town, the Group gains an audience with Mayor Frederick LaCroix, a fiftysomething widower whose face is lined with the weight of the town's recent troubles. He explains that he is at his wit's end, as his letters and messages asking both Phandalin and Dimhaven for help have been ignored. He says that he fears the town will not survive another assault. He begs the Group to help drive back the spiders and, if possible, learn where they are coming from and why they keep attacking.
The Group agrees to help, with the proviso that Loggerton will provide aid and shelter to any of the rescued Cragmaw captives who wish to remain behind in Loggerton rather than continuing the journey north to Phandalin. These roads, after all, are dangerous.
As for Arya, she captures the Mayor's eye and his attention, shooting him a seductive glance and asking if she could dine with him. A widower for many years, this man, resigned to spending his twilight years alone, instead finds himself in the dawn glow of a beautiful elven maiden's smile. He never had a chance.
The rest of the Group leaves them to their meal and exits back into the town.
Investigating rumors that the local baker's home had recently become overrun with spiders. They find this to be true, but the spiders appear to be perfectly normal arachnids. They don’t learn any clues except that the spiders are being driven into his basement from the north -- the same direction from which the giant spiders had been attacking the town every few nights.
Arya, having left her evening's recreation with the Mayor behind, rejoins the Group.
Wishing to complete a ritual of some sort, Strymir seeks out Landon, a Priest of Geshtai, and his young acolyte, Michael, down by the river. After some negotiation, they give him some incense and agree to let him use their altar if he needs to. Arya tries to seduce the old priest, but this one isn’t interested.
Further along, the path that circles through the town, they meet another local: Vladimir, a strapping young lad who is convinced that his betrothed, Bianca, is also still alive, despite being captured by the spiders. Unlike Bruno, Vladimir is eager to charge off to the rescue, and he implores the Group to accompany him to rescue the girl. He tags along, eager to gain the Group's assistance, as they approach the northern gate near sundown -- just as the bells of alarm begin to sound. The spiders have returned.
Springing into battle, the Group battles through waves of giant spiders, as well as the even more deadly teleporting "phase spiders" they had previously encountered in the ruins of Thundertree. Finally, with the sun's last light sinking below the western horizon, the few remaining spiders turn and flee back into the forest. But as the Group catches their breath, Strymir spots something strange in the treeline, half-glimpsed but terrifying: what looks to be the silhouette of another giant spider, but with a humanoid torso growing out of its bulbous body. He sees it only for a moment, and then it is gone, but the shiver that runs down his spine tells him that, whatever this creature was, it must be tied to these relentless spider attacks.
Before he can tell the Group what he saw, young Vladimir runs up, shirtless and streaked in spider ichor.
"Come on!" he yells, already sprinting after the retreating spiders. "They're getting away! We have to save Bianca!"
And as the boy charges heedlessly into the woods, the Group knows this battle is not yet over.