The sound of rushing water echoed before you as the party’s boat travelled down the river. There was no need to row, the fast current whisked the craft along and the oars were mainly used to stop the boat caroming into the rock walls or spinning around. Smaller distributary rivers branched off from the Waydown River at times. These had their own smaller tunnels to travel through, or sometimes just waterfalled into holes. Once they passed a group of kuo-toa who raised their spears, although whether in threat or greeting the party couldn’t tell.
After a couple of hours the raft exited from the narrow tunnel that held the river into a large cavern with a lake in the middle. Light flooded into everyone’s field of vision. The cavern they entered was colossal, they could not see the edge of it nor the ceiling, but what they could see was a multitude of fungus. Mushrooms, shelves, bowls, toadstool, lichen and a thousand other kind of fungus cover the walls, floor, and the sides and tops of rocks. Many mushrooms grew as tall as trees, creating a forest of sorts.
“It’s a fungal jungle!” exclaimed Minimus.
On top of the fantastic size of the fungi many of them glowed, some dimly, some brightly, some with an eerie pulsing light and others steadily. Bright clouds of sparkling spores floated through the air. With the glowing fungus and spore clouds you can tell this fantastic cavern was over 200 feet high and unguessably long and wide. The immense cavern was filled with wild, vibrant shades of blue, green, purple, and red. Despite the intense colours, it was tranquil and quiet.
“It’s beautiful,” said Zelda.
Ahead, close to the shore, they could see the raft with Arrizz and his escort, loaded with tied down crates and boxes. They were using poles to propel themselves, and were heading for where the water became a river again at the far side of the cavern. Cundall noted that the fact they were on the edge of the lake indicated that the lake was too deep for their poles.
“I wonder how far they have to go?” wondered Minimus.
“How far is Szith Morcane?” asked Zelda.
“Olon said it was about 21 days travel from Sporedome, it’s located underneath Daggerdale, but the Underdark entrance there has a magical barrier preventing entrance or exit,” replied Marie. “He said if we ever needed to go there the myconids would likely be able to tell us how.”
“The Zhentarim and Arrizz obviously know the way as well,” said Minimus. “We could also ask them.”
“Let’s pull ashore here,” said Cundall. “For all we know we’re bypassing where the braincap fungi grow.”
They pulled the boat up on the rocky shore.
“Get some cloth and wet it,” said Cundall, “ then tie it around your face. It should protect you from some of those spores, at least the ones that would like to land in a warm, dark area like a nose or throat.”
They all did so and then started moving into the jungle. They all remembered the vision about the braincap mushrooms they had in Gravenhollow so they knew what they were looking for as they walked. Aside from a few wide paths and clearings, the area was rocky and uneven. Zelda noted that the clumps of giant mushrooms could provide cover should they need to hide or make themselves harder to target.
Some fungi glowed softly, making much of the cavern dimly lit. Some sections, in particular those adjacent to clumps of unusually brightly-glowing fungus were well lit. Spore clouds sparkled as they floated through the air, casting odd shadows about the area. Zelda stopped to listen and could hear rushing water, rocks falling in the distance, but mostly there was just unsettling silence.
“_Faerzress_,” said Marie suddenly. “This entire region of Sporedome is saturated with faerzress.”
“We can’t do anything about it now,” said Cundall. “We’ll have to push on.”
The party made their way past glowing bulbs and clouds that twinkled softly in the darkness. Often they had to cut down huge stalks or hold their breath from a disturbed puffball. Everything smelt of decay.
“Oh no… it can’t be..” wailed Minimus, pointing ahead.
A familiar looking spherical creature with a singular eye and strange, waving stalks bobbed in the air in front of them. A beholder! But this thing was not alone, it seemed to have brought three of its friends!
“We’re dead,” said Minimus, although he drew his sword and made ready to fight.
“Wait, I don’t think…” began Cundall. Something was odd about the beholders. Their central eye did not move for one thing, and the multiple eye stalks seemed directionless in their waving. He asked Marie to try talking to them, but they did not reply to her greeting and question in Undercommon. They drifted closer. They would be on top of them soon. This was not how the only beholder they had fought so far had behaved.
“Stuff it,” said Cundall. “Shoot them Zelda!”
Zelda shot her arrows five times, one of them caught Cundall and stuck in his armour without seriously hurting him. He shot Zelda a glare, although she was too busy firing again. Upon being struck each beholder exploded with a mass of spores. Marie and Zelda were out of the spore cloud, having moved back to facilitate easier shoots with bow and magic, but Minimus and Cundall were well covered. They ran out of the spore cloud, holding their breath. Cundall ran to the river, waving Minimus to follow. They both jumped into the river to wash off the spores.
“Make sure you wash your eyes, ears, nose and mouth out thoroughly!” said Cundall when they could talk again. They both ducked their head under the water and used their hands to sluice water around their heads. Cundall also washed Chauntea out, who had not enjoyed the experience.
Marie and Zelda stood guard on the bank, but nothing assailed them from the fungal forest or the water. Eventually they came ashore again, Chauntea grunting.
“Must be some kind of fungal spore trap, or a creature that spreads its spores by exploding when people attack it thinking it’s a beholder,” said Marie.
“I’m glad we had those wet cloths around our noses and mouths,” said Minimus.
“Let’s go look around that area,” said Cundall. “There might be more victims.”
They trudged (or squelched in the case of two party members) back to where the exploding fungal creatures had been despatched.
The party had to wait for a few more minutes until the spore cloud settled. As the spores settle to the floor, they noticed something that had escaped their gaze earlier. Lying in a thick, softly-glowing patch of blue-green fungal undergrowth lay a corpse roughly the size of a child. Drawing closer, Minimus noticed that his features—while distorted in decomposition—were unmistakable. In life, the creature had pale, grey skin; bulbous, white eyes; and white hair. A derro. The creature had succumbed to the fungi of the area and already, bright purple fungi grew from various parts of his body. Slung across his shoulder was a mouldering satchel. Minimus retrieved the satchel, and quickly checked the body. He had replaced the wet cloth and turned his face away from the spores that were disturbed when he moved the body. The halfling opened the satchel and removed a book. Minimus rolled his eyes. More ruddy books. Marie, on the other hand, was predictably excited. She took the book and opened it up and read it, while the others took it as a cue to have a short rest.
After a while Marie looked up. “It consists primarily of insane ramblings accompanied by pictures of deformed fungi, infested derro, and maps labelled with nonsensical phrases such as ‘cave with the seven longings’ or ’the river of molten flowers’. Most of it seems to be written in blood or other bodily fluids” A look crossed her face as if she were fighting off nausea. Then she continued.
“The journal reveals a series of ‘revelations’ accompanied by information that provides some clarity. It talks about someone called The Sacred Seer, and there is some strong evidence to suggest it is a myconid. This Sacred Seer is a visionary who gifts her wisdom to her faithful folowers using spores of knowledge. Mallag – that’s the name of this dead derro – was sent by the Sacred Seer to capture treasure and potential spore servants from those who travel through or live within Sporedome, so that kind of hints this Sacred Seer may be evil or mercenary at best.”
Marie flipped over a couple more pages.
“He’s really insane, it’s hard to follow a lot of this because it doesn’t make sense. Here he says ‘The magic of faerzress has come, so glorious!’ and mentions that the faerzress has not always been here, but it began to appear in Sporedome and the fungi began to show signs of mutation from the magical radiation.” She flipped over some more pages and ran her finger along the words.
“Right, here it talks about the ‘demon derro’ and the need to protect the Sacred Seer from them.”
“Demon derro?” queried Zelda. “Could that be demon tainted derro?”
“Or derro that worship or are commanded by a demon?” suggested Minimus.
“Either way, let’s be wary of derro,” said Cundall, restraining Chauntea who wanted to snuffle about in the fungi.
Marie continued – “These demon derro are from some place called Ravagestone and are constantly raiding Sporedome, but since the faerzress has spread they have come more frequently, often cutting down huge swathes of the newly-irradiated fungus and taking captured or killed myconids with them. There’s some bits here saying that the other myconid circles – which I guess is like a community – do not like The Sacred Seer, and that one of them ruled by Sovereign Agaricus was seeking to destroy Her circle.”
“Does he say where this Seer lives? She might help us,” suggested Minimus. “Or we could encourage her to help us.”
“Maybe this Agaricus myconid would be better,” said Cundall. “He seems to know evil when he sees it.”
“These crudely drawn maps mention the ‘Seer’s Dell of Doom’ being located on the far side of Sporedome,” said Marie.
“Oh, Dell of Doom?” laughed Zelda. “That’s encouraging.”
It’s going to take us hours to get there,” said Marie, looking around and orientating the map.
“At least it’s a goal and we’re not just wandering aimlessly,” said Cundall. “Let’s go.”