On the way to the winch, Jon explained that the Red Plumes had sent a patrol down once a day to clear creatures attracted by the light away from Cundall’s Hole. They had encountered kuo-toa, drow, oozes, giant spiders, quaggoth and derro.
“Out of those only some of the drow and the kuo-toa didn’t attack us on sight,” the young Red Plume corporal said. “But our orders were such that we quickly made enemies of everything we met. So don’t expect anything to be friendly now, we’ve kind of ruined that for you.”
The party sat in the boat as it was winched down. On the way down into the darkness the boat swung suddenly for some reason, it hit the cave wall, and caused the party to fall into one another. By the time the boat reached the bottom the bruises were already visible.
They stepped onto the solid ground outside the boat and Zelda pulled on the rope to let those above know that they can bring the rope and straps back up. The soldiers and workers fitted a basket to bring down a load of tools and supplies – Jon had also explained they were going to make a defence of sorts that patrols could retreat to if necessary while they waited to be winched up.
As they used this time to take in their surroundings the party were reminded that the Underdark was a whole different world from the surface. New sounds and smells accosted them as they slowly moved around this enormous cavern, making sure everything was safe. Minimus and Marie checked the boat for damage. There was a gouge in the gunnel – “the gunnel is the top edge of the side of the boat,” Marie explained – but otherwise it seemed fine.
The Waydown river was still a fast moving body of water, but it seemed deeper than the last time they were here. It flowed into the chamber, travelled the length of the cavern, and then exited on the other side.
Unexpectedly, the heroes heard a loud twang and something large crashing down the sinkhole. Looking up they saw wood, tools, and pieces of the basket falling down the sinkhole. It was going to be landing right on top of Marie and Minimus, although they both managed to dodge out of the way of the larger pieces at the last moment. As they moved out from under the remains of the basket, Minimus’ heart sank as he saw a black tar-like substance on some of the pieces. The substance starts to move towards him, leaving a trail of slime that was eating away at anything it touched.
“Black pudding.. thing!” he yelled. “It must have attached itself to the basket when it hit the wall.”
The party knew a bit more about the creatures from the last battle they had, and Marie refrained from hitting it with a lightning bolt and the others did not use slashing weapons which would split the amorphous monster into two or more creatures. The black pudding soon lost its coherency to the wounds taken from other weapons and attacks and died as its internal mass spilled over the rough stone. No sooner had this happened than a group of kuo-toa arose from the river and attacked. A couple were spell casters and a fierce battle was fought with the Red Plumes cheering from above. The party had the early upper hand in the combat, but that all changed when one of the kuo-toa cast a control water spell that caused the Waydown River to rise and flood Cundall’s Hole. The next minutes of the battle were fought underwater or on the surface. Eventually the kuo-toa were also killed, with help from two giant toads that Cundall had summoned and from Cundall who had shapechanged into a giant seahorse and had Zelda ride him straight at the spellcasters. Meanwhile the summoned toads had swallowed two of the kuo-toa whole! The party were victorious, but it was one of the more unusual battles the party had been in and one that they had taken wounds from.
“Well, that was a nasty welcome back,” grumbled Minimus. He had been affected by a hold person spell during the combat which had paralysed him for a short time. The halfling hated the helpless feeling that came with being affected by paralysing magic.
“That was amazing,” said Marie who had spent the last part of the battle on the boat, “those giant toads were a great help, and the way you turned into a giant seahorse and rammed the kuo-toa priest with Zelda on your back turned the battle in our favour.”
“That’s why I’m the party leader,” said Cundall, smugly. “When it matters, anyway.”
The waters had retreated with the death of the kuo-toa spellcaster, and with a final wave to the Red Plumes (except for Minimus, who spat on the ground) the party now boarded it and set off down the river.
The boat travelled through the darkness, although this was punctuated by areas of low light, from either faerzress or phosphorescent fungi (or sometimes both). Marie cast a light spell so they could see during the dark stretches to make sure they were not drifting too close to the rocky sides of the river, using the oars to fend themselves away. Side passages radiated off the river passage, some with smaller, distributory rivers and some without. In a couple of hours they were back in Sporedome, the huge cavern filled with fungi or all types and shapes. The river fanned out into a small lake, but continued out the other side of the cavern, too far away to see.
“What’s the plan?” asked Minimus.
“Stop at the shore here,” answered Cundall. “I’ll do a locate plants spell to see if we can find some more braincap fungi nearby, and search for myconids.”
“Don’t have to look too far,” said Minimus. “Myconids and derro dead ahead!”
Two creatures had suddenly burst out of a grouping of bright purple mushrooms. A very small humanoid with dark skin, white hair and mustache, white bulbous eyes, and wearing armor was chasing a tall multicoloured myconid. The small creature caught up to the fungi and tripped it, all the while spouting off gibberish. More derro ran out from the cover of the flora. They tried to take possession of the myconid from the first derro. A scuffle started, enabling the myconid to escape without the derro noticing. What they did notice, however, was the party’s light. They all produced crossbows and started loading and cocking them. Zelda rushed to get her bow out and in an uncharacteristic fumble shot her first arrow into the bottom of the boat.
“Oops!” the elf said as she reached to pull the arrow out.
“No, don’t..” began Marie, but it was too late. Zelda pulled the arrow out and a trickle of water started entering the boat from the small hole in the hull.
“Row faster!” ordered Cundall.
Minimus, whose turn it was to row, pulled on the oars and the boat moved towards the rocky shore. The derros loosed a volley of crossbow bolts none of which found a target, although at least one hit Cundall’s shield.
Meanwhile Marie stood up and cast wall of fire. In the time it took for the derro to screech in fear and turn and run, they were all doomed. Some who were a little slower were engulfed in flame, while even those that had avoided the actual line of fire were quickly overcome by the heat and lay still, their skin burning and peeling away, anything flammable on them burst into flame.
“Well… damn!” said Cundall.
They made it to the shore and Cundall cast mending on the boat to repair the small hole. By now a group of myconids had broken from their camouflage and surrounded the party. They made no hostile moves, except that they collectively moved their arms and spores come forth and envelope all of the heroes.
Within seconds of breathing in the pollen, the party members could hear voices in their head. The myconids seem to all be asking if you can hear them.
This group of myconids were not from Agaricus’ circle, although when asked they all knew of him. Cundall asked if they knew of a quicker way to get to Szith Morcane. They said their sovereign might know and if he didn’t then Huum would know.
“Huum?” asked Minimus.
“The mind flayer that we saw talking to Agaricus,” reminded Marie.
“If he offers a head massage, say no!” said Cundall.
The druid cast locate plants and detected a patch of braincap fungi within half an hours walk. They travelled the distance and picked a crop of braincap fungi and put them in the bag with the others. They then accompanied the myconids back to their circle.
The myconid sovereign had a name that might equate to sounding like “Chute” although because they don’t actually pronounce words, names when sounded out or written only approximate what it felt like in their heads. Chute confirmed the following information:
- The derro occasionally come into Sporedome and wreak havoc among the myconids. They are completely deranged and attack for no other reason than to kill. They know there is a derro city somewhere far from this cavern. The derro call this city “Ravagestone” and they refer to whoever is commanding them as “Mother”.
- Lately their attacks have been more frequent and ferocious. They have started carrying away the bodies of the myconids they kill.
- The increase could have something to do with a new presence in the Underdark.
- No creature knows what the entity is but they all feel its pull toward madness.
- When asked where Szith Morcane is, Chute was able to give them directions. It was about 21 days walk from here. However, he happened to know a creature that knows of a portal connected close to there. The creature is known as Huum and has been friendly to the myconids.
“A portal will be better than 21 days walking through the Underdark,” said Cundall.
“We’d be in poor shape by the time we got there,” said Marie.
“And stark, raving mad if the braincaps ran out,” agreed Minimus.
“Looks like we’re going via portal,” said Zelda.
Four myconids escorted the party to Huum’s lair which appeared to be inside the cave wall. The telepathic link that existed between the party and their myconid friends had worn off by the time they stopped and pointed down a short passage. The passage ended at an elegantly carved stone door that has a giant knocker.
Before anyone was able to knock, the door flew open and a hairless purple-skinned humanoid with writhing tentacles surrounding its mouth said in common, “Ahhhh. Come innnnn. I have tea waiting on the table. You musssst be dyyyying of thirsssst."
The tea was weak but refreshing. Huum asked what he could do for them. Cundall decided to be honest and explain their situation, and why they were doing it.
“Yessss I can give you accessss to Szith Morcane, for a pricccce.”
“Not someone’s brain, I hope,” said Cundall.
“Morcane’ssss leader is a ssssimply awful drowwww, by the name of Sssssolom Ned’razak. He hassss ssssomething of mine. It issss a broachhhh that protectssss hissss mind from my prying into hissss brainnnn.”
Huum wanted the characters bring the brooch back to him and he would allow them to use his teleport circle. He also promised that he won’t hunt them down and eat their brain for his next meal. They thought he was probably joking.
“How would you find us, we could go anywhere?” smiled Minimus, really hoping the mind flayer was being humourous.
“Becausssse now that you have sssspent ssssome time with me, I will not have a hard time locating you in the futurrrre.”
“Ah,” said the halfling. “Handy ability that.”
Cundall decided they had spent enough time trying to figure out mind flayer humour and asked if they could go now. Huum slowly rose and walked toward another door in his chamber, with the party following. After quietly mumbling something to himself Huum opened it and a bright orange glow was seen from inside the room. Marie decided he likely uttered a magical password to deactivate the room’s protections. Huum then walked into the room, again followed by the heroes.
Inside the room was a glowing circle on the ground, whose magical energy extended up to the ceiling. He looked at the group and said, “Right through there is the way to Sssszith Morcannnne. Pleasssse ssssend Ssssolom my regaaaaaaards." Before they left, Huum warned them that they will not be able to return the way they came, although they might find other ways to get back to the surface. There was, for example, a tunnel leading from Szith Morcane up to Daggerdale on the surface, although it was currently blocked by a magical barrier. However Solom Ned’razak would be able to dispel it, if they wanted to go that way.
They stepped into the portal.
(to be continued)