Heroes of Hillsfar

Sporedome - Part 5
Doomspore Dell

sacred_seer.jpgThe rest time – the party couldn’t really call it ‘night’ in this huge cave that never changed – was marred by vivid dreams of becoming lost in vast forests of mushrooms for years and years before succumbing to and becoming a part of the forests.

After a rest and some food – edible but tasteless fungi Agaricus affirmed was safe and nutritious for ‘animals’, supplemented by their own rations – they set out with the Sacred Seer for Doomspore Dell. It took three hours as the terrain became difficult underfoot, and the giant fungi forest – “the fungal jungle” as Minimus kept saying – became thicker. Zelda suspected that the Sacred Seer was deliberately taking them in via a difficult route so they would find it hard to leave in a hurry if they needed to. Still linked with the Sacred Seer via the communication spores she did not speak her mind for fear of alerting the elder myconid, but resolved to be on her guard. Eventually they came to a place where the fungi trees were so thick it was like a wall.

The party approached the wall of decaying mushrooms tentatively, but the Sacred Seer encouraged them to push on, assuring the heroes that this was the right place. As they passed through the smell of death greeted you, followed by the ear-piercing shriek of odd-looking fungi that grew silent as the Sacred Seer entered the dell behind you. Inside the dell, the party were greeted by fungi that resemble tentacled skulls; short, squat toadstools that weep a viscous, red fluid from their gills; and tall, slender growths that spew noxious spores into the air like fetid chimneys. On the far side of the dell, nearly a dozen myconids mill about; their eyes meet you as you enter. These myconids were different, they looked warped, changed, mutated perhaps by the faerzress Marie thought. There were dead myconids on the ground, rotting. Unusual fungi grew throughout the area. They resembled tiny brains on short, thin stalks. The heroes knew from their vision in Gravenhollow that this was what they were after.
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“This is Doomspore Dell,” said the Sacred Seer, via the telepathic spores. “These braincap fungi can only grow where there are certain dead fungi present for them to feed on, AND there must be the magical radiation that you call faerzress. You likely cannot grow them on the surface. But I will provide you with as much as you need. I will cultivate it and give it to you to sell or use or however you wish. I only ask that you let me live. I want to live! Go back to Agaricus and tell him you killed me, I do not want to die.”
“Are the accusations against you true, about stealing the sprouts and myconids?” asked Cundall.
“Are the accusations against you about spreading the taint of Zuggtmoy true?” asked Marie.
The Sacred Seer would not admit to any corruption by Zuggtomy, she would only say that she had received ‘otherworldly clarity’ to her role in Sporedome. When asked, the Sacred Seer said that her role was to unite Sporedome into one big circle, and for her to rule. As a reward for helping, the Sacred Seer said that she knew of the drow outpost being overrun by fire giants, and was willing to provide myconids to assist when the time came to take the outpost back. She denied emphatically kidnapping any myconids or sprouts.
“All that are here, are here because they hear the call of change, the call of something better coming, and they want to be part of it.”
“Can we look around?” asked Zelda.
The Sacred Seer assured them there was no need. It would be a good idea to report back to Agaricus now, and tell him that there were no sprouts but that they had to kill the Sacred Seer, the myconid elder suggested.

Heedless, Zelda and Minimus pushed through the dell and into the thick mushroom forest on the other side. Here they found a large cage with myconid sprouts, being guarded by two huge misshapen giants. The party caught a faint telepathic thought from the Sacred Seer – “I do wish you had not done that.”

fomorian.jpgThe battle was on, Minimus and Zelda ran back to the dell, the mutant myconids attacked, while the Sacred Seer sought to escape. However she was followed and attacked by Minimus and eventually despatched. The giants – identified by Marie later as Fomorian Giants, a misshapen, evil giant with an ability to curse anyone it looks at with its evil eye. The mutant myconids were destroyed easily, but the giants were among the toughest foes the party had ever fought. Both Cundall and Minimus were cursed, their bodies painfully wracked and stretched, they developed a club foot and a hunched back, making it difficult for them to move quickly and use their weapons as effectively as they could have. Minimus ended up playing hide and seek in the fungal jungle for a while, to draw it away from Cundall who had been severely injured and allow Zelda to come tend to him. Marie used a fly spell to stay out of reach of their massive clubs, but still had to dodge rocks they hurled at her. The party were victorious in the end, but it was a battle that cost them much in their reserves of healing, and of pain and wounds taken. They looked at dismay at the battlefield where most of the braincap fungi had been flattened by the combatants. They were able to harvest some, however, and knew that more would grow. It would mean another trip into Sporedome later to get more.

The party searched Doomspore Dell and found a chest filled with coins. Why a myconid would need coins they couldn’t say, but assumed it was part of the Sacred Seer’s plans for domination of Sporedome.

They returned with the rescued myconid sprouts to Agaricus to report on the death of the Sacred Seer. While they were pleased to have the sprouts (some of which did not belong to this circle, but the party were assured they would either be adopted or returned home), those elders who opposed the party taking the Sacred Seer were outraged, as much as a myconid can be anyway, that the Sacred Seer had not faced their justice. Agaricus himself was unhappy, but later told the party that he knew it had been a risk but was disappointed the party members were unable to keep their word. He allowed the party to rest again before heading back to the Waydown. During their rest time they noticed a mind flayer speaking to Agaricus. After the mind flayer had left, they asked Agaricus about it.
“That is Huum,” said Agaricus. "He has provided counsel and aid to our circle, and to many other circles besides us. It was he who had warned us about the Sacred Seer.

The party left after resting, and Agaricus agreed to provide myconids to tow the boat upstream to the Waydown. He justified using myconids to help the party to the other elders by saying it would make the party leave that much sooner. It took much longer than the trip down, but the myconids seemed tireless – no wonder the derro liked having them as slaves Minimus thought.
“Light up ahead,” called Zelda. “I think it’s the Waydown!”
“Cundall’s Hole,” corrected Cundall.

There was no winch for the boat – the Zhentarim had long gone – but after much yelling Ziggy appeared at the hole. He lowered a rope and between him and Elum the party and the boat were hauled to the surface. The party told Ziggy about their adventures on the trip back to Elventree.

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Sporedome - Part 4
Demon derro and the Sacred Seer

They continued onward, guided by the mad derro’s map. Within the hour they heard the sounds of chopping, and some voices. Zelda and Minimus snuck forward through the fungal forest to scout ahead. Soon they came across a derro camp, which could only be described as chaotic. They could see several derro—small gray skinned humanoids—poking and prodding myconid slaves with sticks to get them to cut down giant mushrooms and stack them together on the far end of the clearing. A cage held several small myconid sprouts who milled about in silence.
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Minimus and Zelda returned to Marie and Cundall and told them what they had seen.
“We could go around?” suggested Cundall.
“We can’t leave sentient beings in the hands of slavers,” protested Zelda. “Especially not demon derro slavers.”
“It’s not a natural way to die,” agreed Marie, looking pointedly at Cundall.
“Fine,” said the druid. “Let’s rescue them then.”
barlgura.jpgThe battle seemed to go well at first. The derro were surprised, and the died easily. However two of the derro were spell casters, and the first lightning bolt caused the party a lot of problems. Then things got worse when two of the dying derros burst apart and huge gorilla like demons climbed out of the gore. They both roared and attacked. The easy battle became tough. Minimus sliced and stabbed with his magic shortsword, but was knocked unconscious by a massive blow from one of the demon’s clawed fists. However by then the rest of the party had enough momentum and the battle swung the party’s way. The demons were put down, and their bodies dissolved in foul smoke and a black oily substance.
Minimus was revived with a potion of greater healing and the first thing he saw was Cundall’s face .
“Want a kiss?” asked Cundall, smiling.
“I’m not gay,” replied Minimus. “Ow, that hurt, it hit like an avalanche.”
“Those derro are aided by something that can summon demons,” said Marie. “They are demon derro indeed!”

The myconids came out of hiding when the last of the derro and demons were defeated. They peered cautiously at the party and approached hesitantly. Once they got close enough the myconids released their telepathy spores to communicate. For the party it felt like it went from silence to a busy marketplace with many voices speaking at once. Once they were able to filter out some of the noise they were able to ask questions themselves. The myconids stated that the derro were not sent by the Sacred Seer; rather, the creatures spoke at length about Ravagestone; a derro settlement not far from the Sporedome. They asked for assistance to spree the sprouts – the equivalent of myconid children. The myconids urged the party to come with them to talk to Agaricus, who was the leader of their circle. Marie remembered from the article that Agaricus was the only myconid actually standing up to the Sacred Seer. She asked more questions about the Sacred Seer, but the myconids only knew that the Sacred Seer had been accused with being involved with Zuggtomy, the demon queen of fungi, and spreading the demonic madness to myconids. They were unsure if these accusations were true or not.

The party decided to meet with Agaricus, and it was another couple of hours before they reached the circle of the myconid Sovereign. Ahead the party could see a collection of myconids. Many of them looked injured. In the background were several glass eyed derro who stared blankly, zombie like with obvious fungal growths protruding from various parts of their bodies. The myconids circled around one of their own kind. One was a regal-looking being with wise eyes and vibrant coloring. The regal myconid bore down on a second myconid as if yelling, but issues no sound. The myconid on the ground had a bright purple cap run through with black veins and blood-red gills, and seemed to have an extra arm. This myconid on the ground looked up with pleading eyes. As the party approached the entire congregation turned to look at them in silence. Moments later each of the myconids released clouds of spores that quickly engulf the party members. Almost immediately they once again experienced the dizzying sensation of dozens of voices echoing throughout their minds simultaneously.

Eventually the party found out what was going on. The Sacred Seer had been accused of corrupting myconids across Sporedome with the taint of Zuggtomy, the Lady of Rot, the Demon Queen of Fungi, as well as kidnapping sprouts from Agaricus’ circle. The elders of the circle had decreed that the Sacred Seer should be put to death to stop the spread of her taint. The Sacred Seer was denying all charges.
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When the party asked about the braincap fungi, only the Sacred Seer knew anything about them. This caused an ethical dilemma amongst the party members – do they allow justice to happen, or do they try and delay the sentence so as to interrogate the Sacred Seer. There was more discussion and it was worked out that Agaricus would allow the party to take the Sacred Seer to the braincap mushrooms – allegedly in the Sacred Seer’s grove called Doomspore Dell – on condition that any sprouts or any myconid prisoners are freed. Then they were to deliver the Sacred Seer back to Agaricus to carry out the sentence. This was agreed to, although not unanimously, some of the elders believed their law should be followed and the Seer put to death immediately. In the end the party decided to have a long rest and then leave with the Sacred Seer afterwards.

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Sporedome - Part 3
Four Beholders!

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.
gasspore.jpgA 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.”

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Sporedome - Part 2
Cundall's Hole

The trip to Cundall’s Hole was uneventful. There was already a path leading from the road to the Hole, which was helpful because the trailer could travel on it, but caused the party some concern due to the implication that the route had been travelled many times in the couple of months since Cundall’s Hole had been created. Cundall insisted on the party calling it Cundall’s Hole, despite most people in Elventree referring to it as the Waydown.

When they arrived they were further concerned to see a buzz of activity around the hole including a portable crane which was winching someone down into the depths. As the party drew closer they suddenly recognised some of the faces here. This was the Zhentarim faction.
“What in the Nine Hells is going on here?” thundered Cundall.
joyella.jpg“Isn’t it great?” a familiar high pitched voice queried. Out of the crowd came Joyella the gnome who they had met several times. “Some kind of seismic activity has created this new entrance to the Underdark! Everyone calls it The Waydown.”
“I created it!” bellowed Cundall, “and it’s called Cundall’s Hole. Stop that sniggering!”
Joyella looked sceptical. “Really? Or are you having a laugh? How did you create something like this?”
“Magic, that’s how. Hang on, we need to talk about this.” The party got into a huddle, while the Zhentarim went back to their work. Minimus saw Aretheya with the Zhentarim, as well as some other tough looking mercenary types. He hoped Cundall was not going to be obstinate about this.
“What are we going to do?” Cundall was asking. “Do we want this dodgy lot at my hole?”
“They’re up to no good,” said Marie. “Probably up to no good anyway, I don’t trust them.”
Without waiting for any more input, Cundall turned back to the Zhentarim.
“Hey, you lot!” he yelled. His next lot of instructions was not for the faint of heart, but it not so politely invited them to leave the area. Many of the Zhentarim frowned, some were loosening their weapons in their scabbards.
“Look,” said Minimus to Cundall. “They’re not doing anything to hurt us, maybe they’re even clearing the way for us a bit, make it easier. Anything nasty down there will eat them first, right?”
“And we need to use their winch to get our boat down,” added Zelda.
“I’m sure we can lower our boat down,” grumbled Cundall, but he could hear wisdom in their words.
The druid turned back to the Zhentarim.
“All right. Sorry about telling you to.. well.. sorry. But I created this hole. Me. I want compensation for you using it.”
Joyella considered for a moment, her head cocked on one side.
“How much compensation?” she asked.
“Ummm.. two gold pieces per day,” replied Cundall, the first amount that popped into his head and immediately regretted not asking for more.
“Very well,” said Joyella, fishing in a purse. She pulled out two gold coins minted in Hillsfar. “We’re only here for today, dropping off Arrizz and our escort. So here’s your two gold.” She handed Cundall the coins.
“And we want to use your winch,” said Cundall. “For our boat.”
“Well, that’s our winch,” smiled Joyella. “You’d have to pay us to use it.”
Cundall already knew where this was going, but he felt like he had to play it out. “And how much would the use of your winch cost us?” he asked, his voice raising in pitch.
“Two gold pieces,” said Joyella, to her credit keeping her face almost serious. Cundall handed over the money with an exaggerated sigh. Joyella laughed, and just like that the tension was broken and everyone (or at least those prone to light heartedness) laughed or smiled. The Zhentarim continued with what they were doing, paying no more attention to the party.

The heroes looked over the edge to see a raft being lowered down to the bottom. On it was five figures, one of them a drow they recognised – Arrizz. He looked up, but either the light was too bright or he wasn’t in the mood for being social as he didn’t wave. Once the raft and Arrizz and his escort was down, the winch lowered boxes down, which were tied down on the raft with a net.
Aretheya.jpg“What’s in the boxes?” Minimus asked Aretheya.
“Weapons, rations, medicine, armour,” she replied. “Everything those drow fighting the fire giants might need. It’s not much but it’s a start.”
“Wish you were going?” asked Minimus.
“Not really, I prefer to be up here in the light. Crawling around down there in the dark would make me nervous.”
Minimus couldn’t imagine Aretheya nervous, she seemed so competent and composed. He doubted she would have shrieked like he did when the desk turned into a mimic, or when the second black pudding landed on him.
“Why are you going down there?” asked Aretheya suddenly.
“We’re trying to find a cure for this madness, actually something that can prevent madness,” Minimus replied.
“Sounds like you’re doing something good for the world,” the warrior woman said, her voice carefully neutral. Minimus couldn’t tell if she was approving or disapproving. He chose not to respond.

“Alright, your turn,” called Joyella. “We’ll help you with the boat, if you like.”
It turned out all right, the Zhentarim were helpful and they were winched down safely. Cundall had said goodbye to Elum and Ziggy with instructions to wait for exactly five days and then return to Elventree if they weren’t back by then.

Arrizz and his escort had already left on their laden raft. The heroes launched their boat into the cold Waydown River and it disappeared into the tunnel.

Joyella watched them go, and Aretheya came to stand beside her.
“You showed some restraint,” she said. “The druid was rude.”
“The Zhentarim are not the overt bully boy power they used to be,” replied the gnome. " They found using force all the time just united people against them. We have to live in the world and sometimes that means getting along with difficult people and giving a little when it benefits us to do so."
“And when it doesn’t benefit us?” asked the big warrior woman. Joyella shrugged.
“Then it depends on whether we need to send a message to others, or if its better just to forget about it.”
“I hope they find that cure for the madness,” said Aretheya.
“Me too,” agreed Joyella. “Madness is bad for business.” Aretheya was fairly sure Joyella was joking.

(To be continued..)

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Sporedome - Part 1
Preparation

The party met with representatives of all the factions regarding the revelation that braincap fungi can help cure and even prevent the demonic madness. This has sparked great interest among those concerned about the effect madness is having upon the population. So far Elventree was unaffected directly but those who were suffering from the madness – being called the Rage of Demons by many – were having an effect on Elventree’s trade and security. The factions were also taking a wider view, of what could be done to assist the Hillsfar area overcome this problem.

Olon.jpgThe Lord’s Alliance faction, represented by a dwarf calling himself Dornal Whitebeard, presented one of their faction members, a wizard named Olon who also claimed to be an expert in the Underdark, specifically in the area underneath the Dalelands and Moonsea, known as the Deep Wastes.

Based on the information gathered in Gravenhollow Olon believed Sporedome was the most likely location to find the braincap fungi. He didn’t know anything about the braincap but the fact it was not widespread indicated it required a specific set of environmental factors for it to grow. Olon suggested that Cundall would likely be able to tell what those factors were, on inspecting the site where fungus grew.

Olon continued to explain that Sporedome was a huge cavern with a small lake in the centre, fed by the Waydown river. Fungi of all types grew on nearly every surface in the cavern, and it was populated by myconids, an intelligent fungi living in small communities. The Lord’s Alliance wizard said that Sporedome would best be accessed via the new entrance to the Underdark, now being called The Waydown by everyone.
“He means Cundall’s Hole,” grumbled Cundall. “I made it, I should be able to name it.”
Olon ignored the comment and continued explaining that following the main river – ignoring any distributary rivers – would lead them to their destination.
“Any dangers we should watch out for on the way?” asked Marie. “I’m assuming the council would like us to go.” There were noises and gestures of assent from all the faction leaders.
“No,” replied Olon, “the river is too shallow for large predators. The distributary rivers get more narrow and deeper and larger predators can lurk there. Kuo toa also live there, but they are generally happy to ignore those who don’t annoy them, and in some cases can be of assistance. The main danger on this expedition will come from any beings affected by the rage of demons, or demons or demon-blooded beings which we know are loose and roaming the Underdark, and their slaves.

37WaZVz.pngAfter the meeting Marie and Olon spent a pleasant couple of hours talking about the Underdark. Marie found him to be chatty and honest, and could identify with his passion for learning. Olon showed Marie some of his tools he used to explore the Underdark, including an electrum half moon coin from the city of Waterdeep enchanted with a continual flame.
“Obviously I keep this in my pouch most of the time, but sometimes I need to be able to see things in their natural colours rather than through darkvision.”

Meanwhile Cundall travelled to Lighthouse where he bought himself a small boat from the burgeoning small boat building business there. Fish was a staple diet for those at Lighthouse, as well as those in the refugee camps – particularly with parts of the Cormanthor Forest so dangerous, so small fishing boats were in demand. He also commissioned the creation of a cart big enough to carry the boat, which would allow Elum to tow the boat on a road. He was told that it would take about five days to create the cart. On the appointed day, he and Ziggy took Elum to Lighthouse and brought back their new boat on the cart. They were now ready to head off.

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Downtime
Keeping busy between adventures..

The characters spent the next five tendays (a week lasts 10 days in the Forgotten Realms and three “tendays” make up a month) working on their own projects, or in the case of Minimus, carousing. He spent a lot of money living it up, but also with his marked cards and a bit of halfling luck, made a lot of money. Marie went to the Mage’s Guild in Hillsfar and created a pearl of power necklace, and then created two shields with magical enchantments, a metal one for Minimus and wooden one for Cundall. Cundall created more greater potions of healing while Zelda worked on copying some of the passages relating to history from the elven religious texts. When she had finished she returned the texts to the Elven Court, who were happy to give her 500 gold pieces for them. She took some time helping with the patrolling of the Cormanthor, then returned to Elventree.

After his successful carousing Minimus took a couple of days off and travelled with Wittel, the teamster who had been transporting parchment, mead and wine from Hillsfar to Elventree on behalf of a merchant and was returning herbal medicines, bows, arrows and carved wooden items crafted in Elventree back to Hillsfar. The party had first met Wittel when they had helped him rescue his pregnant wife Dottee from the jackelweres at the Spring of Blessed Life. Dottee had given birth to a son who was doing well. She was staying with her family in Hillsfar – quite a few families unaffected by the madness had formed a bond for material and emotional support from the craziness that was affecting so many others. Many of these families were well off and provided men-at-arms for physical protection as well as access to priests for healing when their members were affected by the demonic madness – it seemed the class differences were less important in these terrible times and peasant and noble alike were working together. There was also a female mercenary on horseback who travelled with them named Aretheya. Minimus knew her to be in the employ of the Zhentarim.
“Can’t be helped, there’s a lot of crazy folk about and it’s worth having some protection. Folk have been going missing. I know the Zhentarim have a bad name but they’ve dealt fairly with me so far. Even if they are a bit on the dear side. I just have to factor that into my prices.”
Aretheya looked competent, her horse, armour and weapons were well cared for, and other travellers without any protection gave them a wide berth. Minimus wondered how many would be robbers on their journey saw her guarding the cart and decided to wait for other prey. Aretheya was not much of a conversationalist, although she was friendly enough. Her accent marked her as coming from the north side of the Moonsea, and at camp one night when asked she told them she came from Phlan and fled after the dragon arrived to rule the city. She had no love for the Zhentarim, but they were one of the few organisations offering work that didn’t involve staying in Hillsfar. So far, she said, the Zhentarim had been fair and honest with her. Aretheya acknowledged they could be ruthless, but it was never personal and never about pride. It was always business.

Wittel dropped the halfling off at Fairborough Farms along with some gifts for the orphans Minimus had got through various traders, including from the Zhentarim who dealt with all manner of goods it seemed. Minimus spent a pleasant few days at the farm with Bea and Ebenz, helping with their farm work during the day and telling stories of the adventures of the Heroes of Hillsfar to a wide eyed audience at night. Bea and Ebenz were good hearted people. Bea’s six children were growing up as normal children might. They were a few months old now and “a little more stubborn and obstinate than they had a right to be” as Bea said. They were no fools, they understood now the significance of the six fingers and toes, but there had been no other sign of demonic taint. Before he left Minimus gave them a pouch of coins – platinum pieces. Judging by how round their eyes went they had never seen a platinum piece before. He stopped their protests and told them it was for the care of the children, and for emergencies. They thanked him profusely until he had to laughingly wave them off and walk up to the road to wait for Wittel and Aretheya to take him back to Elventree on their return run as he had agreed.

On his return Minimus found Zelda and, as the others were still busy crafting, suggested that she spend time with him, and he showed her how to gamble. While Minimus made enough to once again fund an extravagant lifestyle with his gambling, Zelda did one better and lived the same lifestyle but made a huge profit besides.
“Beginners luck,” grumbled Minimus to her, but he was actually pleased. He knew her winning run at cards and other games of chance would be talked about for many months afterwards. While he was pleased for her sake, he also knew it would take the heat off him, and people would be less wary of him in gambling games. At least until he won big himself.

Cundall had sold the pipes of the sewer and the magical longbow created by Marie a few months ago. Now that Zelda had Shadowsong she no longer needed this one. The man who bought it seemed a bit “shady” as Cundall described him later, but his money was good, in fact better than good, he offered a little more money than Cundall was hoping for, but wanted the items as soon as possible and declined to answer any questions. Cundall had shrugged and the deal was done that afternoon after the druid had retrieved them from their lodgings. When not crafting, Cundall was also tending to the shrine of Chauntea – it needed a bit of maintenance, and what he couldn’t do himself he paid a tradesman to do. His other objective during their downtime was to hire a handler for Elum – someone who would stay with the mule while they were in a dungeon or anywhere the mule could not follow. Cundall worried about the mule and needed to do this for the mule and also for his own peace of mind. He interviewed several hopefuls, but eventually settled for a man named Ziggy, a refugee from Mulmaster. Ziggy’s business of animals for transport was destroyed when the elemental cultists’ orbs of devastation were detonated in the city. He struck out for Hillsfar but found it not to his taste and had ended up at a refugee camp near the Cormanthor Forest. Ziggy had two different coloured eyes. He was very thin – “His arms are like noodles!” joked Minimus – but he seemed hardy enough, and surprised Marie by speaking several languages, although he frequently used the wrong words in all of them.
ziggy.jpg“A lot of my customers were dwarves, elves, halflings – it was good business to try and talk to them in their own tongue, showed respect to them if you know what I mean,” explained Ziggy. He seemed to be a good choice. Ziggy was easy going, kind – especially to animals – and Elum and Chauntea the pig seemed to take to him well enough. Chauntea treated him as any other party member, even so far as to crawl into his lap at times.

It was well into Autumn when the party were ready to continue on with their adventures.

To be continued…

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 9
Laying Meira to rest..

The rest of the rooms in the second tree of the Abbey held nothing of interest, and so they made ready to cross to the third and last tree. There were two bough bridges, one difficult to traverse, the other easier and still had the handrails for safety.
“Looks suspicious,” said Cundall. “Why are the handrails still present on this bough bridge?”
In the end they decided to risk it, but still roped themselves together. Partway across a glyph of warding activated, exploding knocking Minimus off the bridge, although the rope stopped him falling too far. The explosion had caused him some damage, but he had avoided the worst of it.
‘Burn it down’ he thought as he drank a greater potion of healing.

The handsome double doors at the entrance to the trunk of the last tree depicted the cyclical phases of the sun: dawn, noon, dusk, midnight. They appeared well maintained, showing none of the signs of neglect they had seen elsewhere. Glowing runes etched into the center of the door crackled with a magical energy that even the uninitiated recognised as a warning and a seal. Precisely etched elven letters declared this the entrance to Fane of the Lastsun.
“More glyphs of warding by the looks,” said Marie, examining the glowing runes.
“Can you dispel them?” asked Zelda.
“No, but they could have a key word to nullify them, or key phrase. I have no idea what that would be.”
The party came up with phrases and words, in elvish and common, but nothing seemed to work on the runes. Finally Marie used a mage hand cantrip from a distance. An explosion ruffled everyone’s hair, but nothing else. The doors were undamaged, and now slightly open. Marie brought out the shade coin. "Time for play-acting!! she said.

Meira.jpgThe inner temple was designed long ago in the style of an open amphitheater, with tiered rows of curved benches facing a wooden altar. Behind the altar, a huge opening in the trunk of the shadow top looked due west, rising well above the forest canopy below. A female voice echoed in the empty chamber:
“At last, you have come; long has been my vigil, but not in vain.” The spectral form of an elven warrior shimmers into being ten feet above the temple floor; she did not look like a ghost, she was beautiful. If not for her being partially translucent the party might have thought her alive. Her eyes blazed with fury. “I swore to defend this Abbey, and that oath has now come due.” The spirit extended her left hand and seemed to catch hold of a beam of light filtering down through the leaves overhead. As she pulled her hand back, it could be seen that she now grasped a faintly glowing longbow. She cried out in a loud, clear voice, “Defenders! Awaken! The halls are breached! The time has come at last for us to drive the shadows from this place!”

banshees.jpgThe battle was on! Meira was not alone – elven spirits rose up from the floor, causing supernatural fear as their fair faces changed to something horrible. They also keened, their otherworldly wail so horrifying Minimus could feel his heart nearly stop. But he, like the others, were made of sterner stuff and shook off the effect. Meira’s bow seemed to know where Minimus was going to duck and dodge to, the arrows hit him with a force that nearly knocked him off his feet. He found he had to retreat, leaving Cundall who suddenly found himself facing the elven spirits and Meira. He sank to the ground having been touched with corruption and Meira’s arrows.
“Cundall’s down,” yelled Zelda, continuing to fire at Meira who was flying out of range of melee attack. Meanwhile Minimus downed some potions of healing and Marie cast fly upon him, and he charged through the air towards Meira. Link had been summoned by Zelda and being part of the spirit world himself had no difficulty in tearing – ghost flesh? ectoplasm? Zelda wasn’t sure – from the elven spirits. In the end their teamwork saw them through, Meira wailed as she knew herself defeated, and Cundall was revived from the brink of death.

The spirit of Meira Faerenduil sighed audibly, as if a great weight had been removed from her chest. Lowering her weapons, she looked at the heroes with pale eyes, now clear of the rage that had burned within them.
“You are no agents of shadow, and yet I find myself free at last. I know not what you did, or why, or how, but I know I am in your debt.” Tired from her eternal vigil, she offered Zelda the bow she wielded in both life and death.
“This is Shadowsong, an oathbow. Wield it well, on behalf of the forces of light. I sense your path has occasionally been crossed with darkness, indecisiveness, influence from those minds perhaps less pure of thought of your own.” The ghost’s pale eyes flitted to where Minimus and Cundall were seeing to their wounds.
Meira began to speak of the terrible changes that had seeped into the forest from the Underdark below, drawn up by the deep roots of the trees.
“I will visit with my great granddaughter,” she said, “who set you on this task for no reason other than love and a desire to see things set to rights. I sense greater perils yet remain for the mortals of the world beyond the forest. Perhaps my vigil is not ended, only changed…” She then disappeared from view.

Zelda marvelled at the bow.
“An Oathbow,” she breathed. “I never thought I would hold one, let alone weild it.”
“How much do you think we can sell it for?” asked Cundall. “Kidding, just kidding!” he added when Zelda gave him that look.

The trip back to Elventree was again uneventful. They came across more drow, who they guided to the refugee camps, and saw more evidence of the corruption in Cormanthor – six toed animals, some with two heads, bodies of creatures killed for sport. Nothing serious bothered them though. They were not sure if luck played a role, or if Brightleaf was cleaning up the forest.

Back in Elventree the party were able to rest and recuperate from the last few weeks of adventuring. Elendil was overjoyed at their success, and said she experienced a visit from her ancestor. While her spirit had moved on, Elendil told her that she would return to fight if she were called.

To be continued.

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The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey - Part 8
Back to the Abbey

The party travelled through the Cormanthor Forest, retracing their steps back to Eventide Abbey. Minimus had wanted to go back to Elventree but was outvoted by the others. There was only one encounter of note – two harpies backed up with muscle from an ettin decided to try and waylay the party.
harpy.jpg
The harpies were a minor distraction, once their charm ability had been overcome, but the ettin was a giant of brute strength and power. Minimus had been knocked back by a sweep of the creature’s club and stood out of reach, throwing his daggers.
“Come and do your job!” yelled Cundall to Minimus, suddenly finding he was the only one standing toe to toe with the two headed giant, maintaining trying to concentration on his call lightning spell. Dodging another giant swing, Cundall could see Minimus was despatching a harpy instead of helping Cundall.
“I can get both of you with my lightning bolt!” growled Cundall – Minimus suspected he was only half joking. “I need help!” He ducked away from another wild swing from the ettin as the halfling came to join him.
wegrDxVn_400x400.jpegWith Marie and Zelda assisting they cut, slashed, pierced, bashed and used magic to batter the giant. Eventually Marie took it down with a ray of frost. She smiled as the druid and halfling had to jump away from the falling body.
“Now I’m Marie the ogre-slayer, beholder-slayer AND ettin-slayer!” she said.
“More like Marie the Kill-stealer!” said Minimus.

They made it back to Eventide Abbey after a few more days travel. Through stealth, innovation, intimidation, and a bit of luck, the party managed to avoid any further significant delays or combat. Bruc had met them at the border of the Elven Court with Elum. The wood elf had found the mule wandering and looked after him.
“I knew you’d be back,” he said. “What happened?” He smiled at the party, giving an especially warm smile to Zelda.
“The short version is that magic from an unexpected source teleported us away,” answered Zelda.
“I think I’d like to hear the long version one day,” Bruc said, with only a hint of suggestion in his voice.
“Maybe,” said Zelda. “But right now we need to get back to the Abbey.”
Cundall thanked Bruc and took Emule’s bridle.
“Ooooh,” laughed Minimus softly as they turned onto the path for the Abbey. “Who has an admirer then?”
Zelda frowned, her face going a little red.
“Looks like rain,” said Cundall, peering between the few gaps in the huge shadow top trees. “Storm maybe. That’ll be good for my call lightning spell.”
Zelda was grateful for the opportunity to ignore Minimus’ comment. “It’s near the end of summer,” she said. “It’ll be getting cold soon too.”

They reached the Abbey in a few hours, accompanied by the sound of rain on the canopy overhead. Sometimes the rain cascaded from many branches to the ground, but it was easy to avoid. They Abbey looked the same as they left it, folorn, abandoned, swaying with the huge branches.
“What about we just toss the shade coin up there, and burn the three trees of the Abbey down?” suggested Minimus. “Might work, and save us a lot of trouble.”
“We are NOT burning down any trees!” growled Cundall.
“It would be sacrilege!” exclaimed Zelda. “The Abbey may yet be populated one day.”
“All right, all right,” said Minimus, holding his hands up. “I was just brainstorming ideas.”
“What if we used it as a home and base?” suggested Cundall. “We could make our magic items here, and sell them?”
“It’s a bit out of the way,” said Zelda. “No one lives anywhere near here, travellers would have to travel a long way, AND the Elven Court may not allow them to enter their lands OR allow us to use the Abbey. It is a sacred place after all, which is why Meira Faerenduil was tasked to guard it, even after death.”
“Who?” said Minimus, looking puzzled.
“Elanil’s ancestor who we are putting to rest,” put in Marie. “The reason we are here.”
“Oh yeah, I remember now. It just feels like an age since we took that job on, what with the library and all.” Minimus again recalled to miind the image of the map to the silver ore he knew to be in the Underdark. When this demon nonsense was all sorted he’d be exploiting that little piece of information. He might even make a start now. The halfling considered who could help him with this.
“Wakey, wakey!” called Cundall, snapping his fingers. “We’re going up the stairs we have a couple of hours daylight left.”
“Daylight?” said Minimus, looking around at the gloom. “Is that what you call it? No wonder elves evolved darkvision, living like this.”
“What do you mean, evolved?” asked Zelda.
“Something in one of the books I was skimming in Gravenhollow,” said Minimus. “Just a theory apparently.”
“A theory or a hypothesis?” asked Marie, interested. “A hypothesis is either a suggested explanation for an observable phenomenon, or a reasoned prediction of a possible causal correlation among multiple phenomena. A theory is a tested, well-substantiated, unifying explanation for a set of verified, proven factors. A theory is always….”
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” interrupted Minimus. “You’re making my brain hurt again.”
They saved their breath for the long climb up the winding stair and found themselves once again in the room inside the tree where Marie had fallen to the will-o-wisps. They continued exploring other rooms, finding a dusty and partially moss-covered panel set into the wall of a room Zelda called the Consultation Chambers. Sliding open revealed a cache of very old religious texts beautifully illuminated in the elven style.
“This would be worth some money to a collector,” said Cundall.
“This would be a valuable addition to the library of the Mage’s Guild,” said Marie.
“This would be needed to be returned to the Elven Court,” said Zelda, firmly. They will no doubt pay for our trouble, but even if they don’t these books are part of my culture and heritage.
“All right,” said Cundall. “As long as we get paid.” The books went into the bag of holding.

The rooms in this particular tree had been explored – there was one amusing (for the rest of the party) when Minimus was suspicious of a fountain, thinking it might be a mimic, but turned out to be just a fountain – and it was time to move across the bridge made of boughs to the next part of the Abbey at the next tree. It looked like a gust of wind at the wrong time might send someone plunging to the floor 200ft below, so they roped themselves to each other and made it across.
“Do the elves that lived here have to do that and risk death every time?” wondered Cundall?
“I think there may have been hand rails grown out of the branches by the tree shapers, they’ve been absorbed back into the tree over the centuries,” answered Zelda.
An elaborately carved archway marked the passage into the trunk of the second shadow top tree. Delicate rune-letters in a variety of languages, both Common and unidentifiable, marked this place as a library of divine laws. Inside the stacked rows of carefully ordered shelves stretched towards the vaulted ceilings 50 feet overhead, but now sat empty; no sign remained of whatever tomes and scrolls they once held. The entire chamber was spotlessly preserved with no traces of dust or the signs of abandonment the heroes had seen elsewhere in the Abbey. Two closed doors were set into walls across from the entrance.
“Well, we won’t be spending days in this particular library,” said Minimus, striding in and flinging his arms wide. Marie followed him. At that point Minimus’ eye caught movement above him – something was dropping from ooze_crop.jpgthe ceiling! He flung himself to the side and rolled across the floor as a black, jelly like creature hit the ground where he had been half a second before. Just as Minimus was about to congratulate himself, another landed right on top of him, engulfing him. The jelly creature – he later knew it to be called a black pudding – burned the areas of exposed flesh with acidic secretions. As the others rushed to attack the creatures, Minimus put everything he could into an acrobatic flip to tear himself free from the ooze’s grip on him. It worked, but his skin still burned from the acid, but he had no time to deal with it. He brought out his magic sword Companion and launched into an attack with his comrades. The creatures were hard to kill. Marie tried a lightning bolt on them, but they split into four creatures and still came on to attack. The lightning had not hurt them at all. Zelda was using the point of Bloodthirst her magical blade to cause gaping wounds after being warned by Marie not to slash the monster oozes as it would likely cause them to split again. Eventually the black puddings were too badly damaged to hold their coherency, and their fluids leaked all over the floor. Cundall applied healing magic to those affected.
“I can’t go on, look at my armour!” said Minimus. There were multiple spots in his armour that had been corroded by the acid of the black puddings. “Are you sure we can’t just burn this place to the ground?”
“My armour too,” said Zelda, her leathers scarred and missing in places.
“I can fix that,” said Cundall. “Come here everyone.”
Cundall used a mending cantrip to repair the damage to the armour. It was like he was using the armour material like clay, and smoothed over the holes and repaired straps and buckles. It took a while as he had to cast the cantrip many times, but eventually everyone’s equipment was repaired.

They made ready to continue their explorations – Minimus made sure he looked up into the ceiling of every room they entered from then on.

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Side Trek - The Library of Gravenhollow - Part 4
A possible ally, and return to the surface

sp_crystal.jpgThe next day the party used the stonespeaker crystal to ask about Lolth and why she wanted the demon lords out of the Abyss. The vision started after the usual moment of darkness and disorientation.

They beheld the true form of the Demon Queen of Spiders—that of a black, bloated arachnid with the head of a female drow. Nestled in the webs all around her were thousands upon thousands of large grey eggs. There were spiders taking those eggs and disappearing through portals. Lolth knews she was being scried, her fury tangible as her mind reached out to find you. Her shriek of rage as she was shut out by the powerful wards of Gravenhollow echoed in the heroes mind as the vision was suddenly torn away to darkness.

“Well, that was intense,” said Minimus.
“We annoyed her,” said Zelda. “I hope she didn’t get as good a look at us as we did of her.”
“Those spiders taking her eggs,” pondered Cundall. “I think she is taking them to be hatched into the other layers of the Abyss. It’s probably all chaos there with no demon lords to rule them.”
“And when the eggs hatch and grow with mini-Lolths to take over those layers of the Abyss, Lolth will end up ruling all of the Abyss!”
“And then what? Who cares if she rules the Abyss? One demon lord is as bad as another,” declared Minimus.
“And then she opens up portals to our world – and other worlds – and for the first time every layer of the Abyss pours forth all its soldiers to destroy and lay waste to entire worlds,” said Marie.
“Well that kind of interferes with my own plans of staying alive and dying of old age,” Minimus grumbled.
“In truth this is probably plan of centuries,” admitted Marie. “Likely out of all of us here only Zelda will be alive to see it, but obviously we still don’t want it to happen and should oppose it however we can.”

ceaser_slaad.jpgThe heroes continued to look for more information, but it was getting more difficult to find anything relevant. Marie spent the later half of the day compiling all of the information they had so far. At the end of the day they went to search for the drow Vizeran. As usual they found him in company with Ceaser. He listened to their information and was very interested about their visions about the summoning of the demon lords and of Lolth.

“That fool Gromph Baerne – that icon Cundall drew is of the Menzoberranzan noble house Baerne – brought the demon lords down upon us, with his demon queen pulling his strings all the while. He has given Lolth free reign in the Abyss. My own research leads me to believe Gromph used faerzress to achieve such a summoning, though l am sure he didn’t intend this result. Imbecile!” The old drow took a few moments to compose himself.
“l can save you months of research—time we clearly don’t have. The information I found here has confirmed my theories, and I know how to banish the demon lords back to the Abyss. we can do this only if we work together. If you are willing and daring enough to directly challenge the demon lords. Or perhaps foolhardy is the better word.” He gave a tight lipped smile.
“We’re willing to help any way we can,” said Marie, before the others could make any contribution. Zelda nodded. Cundall and Minimus looked less certain.
“Good,” the drow nodded. “You are not ready yet, and I need to make certain arrangements. I will send you word and when I do, come see me in Araj, my tower and Stronghold. There I will explain my plan.”
“Why not explain it now?” asked Cundall.
“The walls here literally have ears, and echoes linger forever,” said Vizeran. “Only my home is secure enough to serve as the place from which to plan the demon lords defeat. In the meantime gather as much resources, power, magical items, and allies as you can.”
“Very well, we will wait for your summons,” said Marie.

The following day the party used a stonespeaker crystal to ask about a cure or preventative for the madness that was being spread by the taint of demons in the faerzress that would be accessible near Hillsfar. They received a vision about a huge cavern in the Underdark filled with fungi of all types. The vision showed them myconids – intelligent fungi lifeforms – being attacked and captured by derro, as well as conflict between myconids themselves. The vision zoomed out, showing them the cavern was in the Upperdark near Hillsfar.

For the rest of the day they explored the writing in the Archives of the Future, written by the Keeper Ustava who wrote on tablets according to her visions of the future. The interruption of the demonlords into the Underdark had sent powerful ripples of indescribable Chaos through Ustova‘s visions. All she saw of the future was fire, blood, and death, shot through with signs and portents based upon the natures of the demon lords—the bloody spirals and twin—forked symbols of Demogorgon, the excessive growth and rot of Zuggtmoy, visions obscured and clouded by the slime of Juiblex, and so on. It seemed that without intervention, the world was going to suffer from the incursion of the demon lords and their battles with each other. It would not happen for several years, but it would happen.
“I think we’ve learned all we can from this place,” said Marie as they gathered to discuss what they had found. “I’m ready to go home.”
“More than ready,” agreed Cundall. “I keep thinking about Elum, I expect he is fine where he is, but I worry.” Chauntea oinked as if agreeing.
“Then on the morrow let us leave this place and return to Cormanthor Forest,” said Zelda. “I long for greenery and open skies.”
“I want to go home. I’ve had enough of books, tablets, scrolls, papers, parchments, stone slabs, crystal slabs, monoliths and stelae,” grumbled Minimus. Marie gave an approving nod at the use of the word stelae – an upright stone column bearing inscriptions.
“It’s settled then,” said Marie. “We leave after our rest.”

chasme.jpgThe following day the party departed Gravenhollow. It had been an experience that they would remember always but there were things to do – for one, complete the mission they had been on to give rest to Elanil’s ancestor at Eventide Abbey. They left the library, each of them thinking about the Cormanthor Forest. The stone guardians again turned their heads to watch the heroes but did nothing else. They followed the tunnel for a few hours, already aware that this was now not some lava tube, but a rocky passage through the Underdark. After a while they could hear water ahead. Around the same time demons appeared from a side tunnel – huge fly like demon accompanied by two beautiful demons with reddish skin, wings, both armed with swords. The fly demon vibrated its wings, its magical vibration battered the minds of the party members, and caused all but Minimus to fall into unconsciousness. The halfling had to spend the first few seconds waking up Zelda, before meeting the attack of the fly demon, and Zelda spent the next few seconds waking up Cundall who spent the next few seconds waking up Marie. Those few seconds counted, and Minimus bought another few seconds with his furious attack which concerned even the fly demon, especially as he was wielding a magical sword that slid deep into its body where a normal blade would have had trouble. However the fly demon managed to pierce Minimus’ body in turn with its glistening black proboscis. Minimus felt the corruption spreading from the wound which weakened him. Zelda’s arrows and the arrival of Cundall to help made a difference and the fly demon – later Marie would tell them it was known as a chasme – was killed. The two winged demons had split, the male demon attacking and female one fleeing down the tunnel, presumably to get reinforcements. Cundall and Marie took off in pursuit of the female while Minimus faced the beautiful male demon – later he would know it was called an incubus. The incubus looked into Minimus’ eyes, and the halfling felt his will drain away. Why was he fighting this beautiful creature, he just wanted to please it, to be friends with it. The incubus drew Minimus into an embrace and kissed him full on the lips. Again Minimus felt demonic corruption flooding his body and weaken further. The halfling pushed away, using his acrobatic skill rather than his strength to escape the demon’s embrace. Then as two arrows from Zelda thunked into its chest, Minimus stabbed the creature through the ribcage into its heart and the incubus collapsed, reddish black blood pouring from its wounds.

incubus.jpgMeanwhile Cundall had changed into bear shape to run faster and had caught up with the succubus. He then changed back into human form and summoned two brown bears in front of the demon, blocking off her escape. She tried to fly over the bears, but the low roof hampered her and the bears reared up and batted her to the ground. Between the bears, Cundall and Marie it was short work to finish her off. More sounds of demons, many more of them, could be heard further down the passage – how far was difficult to tell they way the sounds echoed off the rock walls of the tunnel.
“Adventurers, we are leaving!” announced Cundall, after running back to the others. “More demons on their way.”
“Enjoy that kiss, Minimus?” Zelda smiled sweetly. Minimus didn’t answer.
The party hurried towards the sound of water, Minimus behind Marie, watching her backside and occasionally mumbling to himself “I’m not gay, I’m not gay.”
The tunnel ended at a broad river of dark water flowing swiftly through the Underdark. There was room on the edge of the river to walk single file, and they hurried along, slowed somewhat by the path sloping towards the river. Marie looked at the walls as they moved, noting that the lines on the rock seemed to indicate the river was deeper at times. She assumed that if the water came from the surface – most likely the river Tesh if they were where she thought they were – then it would swell with the melting of snow and ice in the spring.

They found themselves in a huge vault – a cave with a roof 200 feet high – with the river continuing on. Marie stopped everyone.
“This is it!” she said. “This is the place I foresaw! It’s time to use the stone doll!” Sounds of pursuit now were coming from the tunnel they had just exited. Shouts, whistles, grunts, roars and clicks indicated pursuit from an assortment of demons and perhaps their slaves.
“Hurry!” said Minimus. Zelda nocked an arrow and trained it on the tunnel mouth.
EEMini.pngCundall chanted as he held the stone doll to the ceiling, calling on the spirits of earth to provide him with aid. The earth rune on the stone doll glowed and faded. A creature made of the very bones of the land raised up from the ground in front of him, and waited instruction. On Marie’s instruction, Cundall pointed to the roof of the vault. “Tear it down,” he ordered. The earth elemental travelled through the rock and stone up the wall of the cavern to the roof. Soon huge chunks of stone came tumbling down, some into the river, most into the ground. The party pressed against the wall, trying to avoid being flattened. Soon there was a big hole in the ceiling and the party could see starlight.
“Enough!” called Cundall. “Carry us up there!” The elemental came down, moving through the rock as a fish swims through water. It held out a huge rock appendage for the party to sit in or hang onto, and with only this appendage protruding from the rock wall, travelled once again up to the ceiling. It deposited the party up to the surface, just as a load of dark shapes spilled out from the river tunnel. The party couldn’t see clearly, but it looked like none of them could fly, or climb too well. In any event, they were not pursued to the surface.

Cundall dismissed the earth elemental who slid back into the ground.
“Look, the lights of Hillsfar,” said Minimus, pointing to the city silhouetted against the starlit sky. It looked to be about half a days travel away.
“And Cormanthor,” said Zelda, pointing to the nearby forest.
They had escaped the Underdark and were ready to resume their mission.

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Side Trek - The Library of Gravenhollow - Part 3
Questions

As the party walked up to the massive set of doors, the statues turned their head with a grating sound to watch them. Veldyskar nudged open the doors with his snout and waddled through. The party followed.
gravenhollow.jpg
Walking across the threshold of Gravenhollow was like stepping into another realm. The oppressive gloom of the Underdark was replaced by light and a sense openness that brought back memories of the surface world. The corridor beyond the gates was wide enough for ten people to walk side by side, and the ceiling’s height reminded Marie of the great halls of the Mages’ Guild of Hillsfar. The corridor opened into a central well, with walkways crossing its span to the opposite side. They could barely see the ends of the level to their right and left, with doors opening into so many rooms that Marie doubted they could explore them all in a single day.
The ceiling was bright, with rainbows trapped in hundreds of crystal formations combining to create a warm and inviting illumination. Looking down was a dizzying experience. Staircases connected to different levels below, and Marie soon lost count of how far down they went.

hourm.jpgA stout, rocky creature detached from the perfectly smooth wall to the party’s left, leaving an imprint of its body in the wall that quickly smoothed out and faded from sight. It spoke with the sound of rocks scraping over each other.
“Travelerrrsss, I am Hourm. The masterrsss are occupied. Therre arre rroomsss forr all of you. Choose yourr own, The rressourrcesss of Gravenhollow arre at your disssposssal. You need only asssk.”

The guest quarters appeared bare until each of the party chose a room. The next time that room was entered. it is fully furnished according to the person’s taste and needs. Zelda’s was elflike with a carved wooden bed, decorated with pot plants and paintings of the Cormanthor Forest. Cundall’s had paintings of pastural, agricultural, and wilderness scenery. Minimus appeared to have chosen a luxurious bedroom that one might find in an inn frequented by the highest nobility, while Marie’s room had many bookshelves containing the classics of literature and reference. Even more amazing they found later that they did not have to try to find their rooms after exploring the library. They simply visualised their rooms and the next corridor they turned into contained their rooms. In fact that was true of the entire library – they had to simply think about where they wanted to visit and the next stair or passage was the one they needed. Even Minimus was impressed.

With Hourm’s assistance they soon found how to navigate the library. It was roughly divided into three parts – the Archives of the Past, the Archives of the Present, and the Archives of the Future. The library itself was peaceful and serene. It also only dealt with giant history and Underdark history. The surface lands were mentioned, but only where it related to the Underdark. Another amazing phenomena was that no matter what language was spoken or read, anyone could understand it.

There were other visitors here, sometimes real and solid, but sometimes they were ghost like, transparent or translucent, sometimes flickering into the party members’ sight for a few minutes, sometimes staying longer. These were also aware of the party, their gaze would flit to them when they approached, but they would always move on, as did the party.
“I think these ghosts are visitors to the library who are here at another time to us,” said Marie.
“How does that work?” asked Minimus. “Actually, never mind, don’t tell me. My brain hurts just thinking about it.”
When asked Hourm called them “echoes” and confirmed they were visitors from another time. The only time they interacted with one of these echoes was when Marie went very still and quiet, staring at one – a middle aged man with a short grey beard, smoking a pipe.
“That’s Elminster!” she almost squeaked. Marie went to speak to the echo, and he responded kindly, asking the party (for they all came to meet the famous mage of Shadowdale). Elminster told them he was looking for information about a lost spell. It turned out he came from the future and he was careful not to give them too much information in case that changed their decisions and it altered the course of events. The only thing he would say about the demon lords invasion of the Underdark was that the demon lords had been returned to the Abyss but had caused much damage before that could be accomplished. This gave the party great hope that someone would be able to achieve this.
“Hey, maybe it’s us!” laughed Minimus.
“Wait. Demon lords?” asked Cundall. “Plural? Not just Graz’zt?”
Elminster confirmed that it was not just Graz’zt who had been summoned to the Abyss but nearly all of the major demon lords.
“No wonder the Underdark has been suffering so,” sighed Zelda.

The visitors here in the same timestream as the party were rare indeed, and mostly did not choose to interact with the heroes or vice versa. A mind flayer shuffled along and nodded in a very human way as it passed by. Two figures approached the party – a withered drow clad in dark flowing robes, and a hulking gray-skinned monster resembling a spiky humanoid toad, its wide mouth filled with sharp teeth. The drow’s pinched and lined face spoke to his great age and his red eyes narrowed as he appraised the party as they passed by, walking together.

The heroes spent a few hours drawing up a list of research topics which they would all work on. Marie deferred to Cundall about how they should go about this, but Cundall waved off any suggestion he should take charge.
“Nope you’re the party leader here,” he said. “I’m only the party leader when it matters.” Marie was only partly sure he was joking.
This was the list of knowledge they wanted to seek:

  • How did the demon lords get summoned to the Abyss?
  • How can they be sent back?
  • What protection is there from the madness which comes from demonic taint?
  • Can the madness be purged from the faerzress?
  • Who are the Crimson Trinity and what are their names?
  • How can we get back to the surface?
  • Are there any ancient Underdark tombs near Hillsfar that can be plundered? (that was Minimus’ contribution)
  • Are there any veins of rich ore in the Underdark near Hillsfar? (also Minimus)

Then they spent the next few days researching. They found that there were multiple demon lords in the Underdark, as Elminster’s echo had said, and that sending them back to the Abyss and then letting the faerzress heal itself was the only way to fix that particular problem. The demon lords they found reference to in the Archives of the Present included Orcus the Demon Prince of Undead, Demogorgon, Baphomet and Yeenoghu (who had resumed their hatred of each other in huge, bloody clashes of followers in the Underdark), Zuggtomy the Demon Queen of Fungi, Jubilex the Oozing Hunger, Graz’zt of course, and only a small mention of Fruz-Urb’Luu the Prince of Deception compared to writing about the others. Whatever he was up to he was keeping it quiet.
“Or perhaps another demon lord has done him in already,” suggested Minimus.
They also found out that the demon lords could possibly be sent back by magic – perhaps a kind of hitherto unknown massive banishment spell, or killing them one by one, in which case their souls and bodies would reform in the Abyss. An ominous prospect, there were few indeed who could meet a demon lord in combat and expect to live, let alone all of them.
The Crimson Trinity were three incubi warlocks favoured by Graz’zt. Gheriot is based at Hillsfar, Oromoth is at Maerimydra, and Vheloch is at Szith Morcane. They were creating a ritual whereby souls killed in the Hillsfar Arena and the Maerimydra Colosseum would be channelled as energy straight to Graz’zt. The actual ritual for this will be held at Szith Morcane and maintained by Vheloch. The Crimson Trinity were planning a huge gladiatorial event in both Hillsfar and Maerimydra at the same time where death on a massive scale will give many souls to Graz’zt granting him a huge increase in power.
They found out that when the party left the library, if they thought about where they wanted to end up, the library would deposit them within a days travel of that location.
Minimus did not find any ancient tombs to plunder, but did come across an old map in the Underdark near Hillsfar that had a rich vein of silver, and so far had not been claimed or plundered. Minimus punched the air, and put the map into his pocket.
“Hey it says here that we can’t take anything from the library with us,” said Marie, looking at a tablet. “And if anyone was to try, the library does something nasty as punishment. Very nasty.”
Minimus took the map out and memorised it, then put it back where he found it. Marie smiled.

Hourm announced one day that Ulthar – the Keeper of the Past – was available to see them if they wished. They followed the earth spirit creature to the Archives of the Past. Ulthar turned out to be a stone giant – as were all three of the Keepers of the Archives – but friendly, and of course due to Gravenhollow’s language magic, they could easily understand him. Ulthar let it be known that he saw the party as echoes, even though they saw him as solid and real. Marie decided it was because the stone giant archive keeper was a permanent fixture of Gravenhollow and not a visitor like them. Ulthar gave them some more tips on searching, and also gave them a stonespeaker crystal – a magic item that would grant anyone touching or holding it a vision relating to any one question asked. The stonespeaker crystal would only work once per day.
gravenhollow_librarians_s.jpg
The party decided they would use the crystal for information they were having difficulty with finding any other way – how the demon lords had been summoned to the Underdark, for example. They thanked Ulthar and continued with their searching for information.

vizeran.jpgIt was during this search when they were approached by the elderly drow and frog demon they had seen earlier. The toad demon was not a demon at all, but a death slaad, Marie realised, having read about such things being summoned, although this type of slaad was the fiercest and most powerful of the slaad race and she had never heard of anyone summoning one. Rather than passing by the drow, who introduced himself as Vizeran DeVir, greeted the heroes cautiously, as if expecting a rebuff. When the party returned the introductions with cool politeness, Vizeran introduced his slaad companion in a way that was difficult for humans to replicate on first listen. Cundall referred to the slaad from then on in his head with the closest approximation in the common tongue, which was “Ceaser”. Vizeran asked what business brought the party to Gravenhollow and listened to the honest response from Marie. Vizeran told the party that he was an arch mage and had opposed the tyranny of Lolth and her priestesses for centuries and that now believed some large scale demonic invasion was underway in the Underdark and had come to Gravenhollow to confirm as well as look for any information on how it could be beaten. When asked about his enmity to Lolth, the drow replied that he and others believed that Lolth had simply used the drow to further her own ends and she would ultimately destroy the drow. The demon queen of spiders would not care, she would simply enslave another race, or use drow from a different world maybe. Vizeran appeared convinced that worship of Lolth was not in the best interests of the drow race and they throw down the temples of Lolth and worship other gods whose fortunes would rise and fall with the drow. The drow archmage suggested that he might meet the party in a few days and they could share information about how to combat the demon lord problem. The party agreed.

Towards the end of the day – although the delineation of a day was the party feeling tired and needing sleep as the library did not have a day/night cycle – they decided to use the stonespeaker crystal to answer their first question about how the demon lords had been summoned to the Underdark. In the Archive of the Past they all touched the crystal while Marie asked the question about how the demon lords had been summoned to the Underdark. There was a moment of disorientation, and the vision began.

An imperious drow arch-wizard in spider-silk robes cast a mighty conjuration spell. As the ritual drew toward its conclusion a web of faerzress energy expanded outward. The wizard seemed alarmed by this, his efforts to complete the spell growing more crazed as he realized he had lost control. And then – madness! Rifts opened in the web of energy around him. These cracked, stretched and widened, and through them came horrific fiends that screamed, shrieked, and howled as they were wrenched from the Abyss and were cast into the Underdark. A woman’s deep, dark laughter echoed in the party’s minds as the drow wizard shrunk away from the demonic hordes he had unwittingly unleashed. The vision faded.

“By Chauntea’s glory!” breathed Cundall. “Did you see the insignia on the drow’s robes? It might be a clue.” He used a piece of parchment to record the insignia from memory. The druid decided to show it to Vizeran when they met next.
“Who was the woman laughing?” asked Zelda. “Another demon? A goddess?”
“It could only have been Lolth,” said Marie.
“Why would she be laughing?” asked Zelda.
“We found no reference to her in the Underdark,” Marie said, snapping her fingers. “She isn’t here, she’s still in the Abyss.”
“What’s her game?” wondered Cundall.
“We should ask that question tomorrow and use the stonespeaker crystal to find out,” said Marie.
“But now,” said Minimus, yawning. “It’s been a big day. I’m bushed. Sleep time.”
They were all tired and went to their rooms. Tomorrow was going to be another busy day.

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