Part the First: Fir What It’s Worth
15 Mirtul, ???, The Mushroom Cave
The strange little mushroom creature’s arms were outstretched, stumpy little fingers aflutter at their ends.
Mosely knelt down and the creature drew nearer. Suddenly a small, wispy cloud erupted from the creature’s hands. Before the bard could pull away, his eyes, nose and mouth were covered in tiny spores.
I always knew it would end like this…
As the spores inevitably entered his system, Mosely’s senses of smell, taste and sound became overwhelmed by a combination of sensations that he never thought possible. His mouth felt like it was full of loamy earth, while his nose visibly recoiled at the smell of a hundred years of rot. A dull ringing in his ears slowly coalesced into an unfamiliar voice…
LET ME SING YOU THE SONG OF MY PEOPLE.
The mushroom creature before him, which he now – somehow – knew was King Phylozope of the Myconidae, was joined by dozens of others of his kin in a song that reminded Mosely of walking through knee-deep piles of fallen leaves in the autumn.
SAVIOURS! YOU HAVE FREED US FROM THE EVIL SPIDER-ELVES!
“Why…yes. Yes we did!” Mosely thoughts drifted to the odd turn of events that had led them here. Fauss’ communion with…something, the tense stand-off with that dwarf and her companions, the descent into the dark pit from whence the –shudder- spiders had emerged, the stumbling about through the dark that led them to this place and the darkly dark ultra-dark that the driders employed to devastating effect. It was a testament to their skills and resourcefulness that they hadn’t been killed.
And now the mushroom folk were singing their praises.
After resting, King Phylozope explained the current situation of the myconid people, and how they were stuck between the driders and drow. There was some concern as to whether or not the myconidae would be safe after the party left, but the recently revivified drider zombies seemed to confirm it.
As they made preparations to leave, Scalrag began packing some of their recently-acquired treasure when he made the kind of sound that people make when they find something unexpected.
Mosely peered over his shoulder. “What is it Scalrag?”
“Hmm? Oh…I just realized we found these a while ago and never really studied them. Here hold this.” The rogue tossed a small wooden ring to the bard and then returned to his packing.
After a moment, he heard a sound behind him. It was the kind of sound that people make when something unexpected happens to them.
“What is it Mosely?” He glanced over his shoulder, but Mosely couldn’t answer because Mosely wasn’t there.
“Uh … guys?”
What was there was a very tall tree.
First there was darkness.
No, darkness is something.
First there was nothing.
Then there was darkness. Mosely couldn’t see. Or rather, seeing was not something that Mosely did anymore. But he could feel.
He could feel the pulse of the earth below him as his roots drank of the ground’s nourishment. Slowly he became aware of presences other than himself. Close, but fleeting like a dream after waking up.
Waking up? What is sleep? There is just time.
No…there is more. There is something…somewhere. But what?
Mosely felt stretched, and yet solid. Rooted to the ground and the present. Slowly he became aware of his surroundings. There were things nearby. People. Yes, people were things. And he knew people. His friends were people…
He had friends!
MMMMMPH MMMMMMPH MPHH MPHHH MMMMMPHHH!!
What was that?
MMMPHH MPPHH MMMPHHH MMPHHH.
HEY GUYS, I CAN SEE HIS FACE! SORT OF.
Scalrag’s voice was muffled, and yet strangely clear. It wasn’t that he heard him, but he felt the vibrations of his words.
Suddenly his awareness snapped sharply into focus.
I am a tree … Huh. Go figure.
Mosely was a tree but he was still Mosely. He could feel the small tremors in the ground as his friends gathered around him. He could sense the presence of the myconidae throughout the cavern.
Well this is kind of neat.
WHAT IS NEAT?
YES. WHAT IS NEAT?
You can hear me?
YES. WHAT IS NEAT?
Oh…well I’ve never been a tree before. It feels neat.
WHAT DOES NEAT MEAN?
Oh. It just means interesting.
I SEE. YOU ARE LIKE US NOW. NEAT.
As the moments passed and his friends voiced their confusion, Mosely became aware that it was the ring that had transformed him into a tree. He also became aware of some other things.
Great King Phylozope!
Before we take our leave of your generous hospitality, I have a small favor to ask of you and your people…
Scalrag sighed. “Mosely is SO lucky…”
Bjorn looked at Scalrag like he was crazy. “Scalrag what are you talking about? This is serious!”
“They’re worshipping him like a god, Bjorn.” Scalrag scowled. ”This is exactly what he wanted and it’s infuriating.”
Fauss scratched his chin and tilted his head while the myconidae watered Mosely’s roots. “I wonder if it is some kind of curse…”
Scalrag rolled his eyes. “I could only be so lucky. Seriously, Mose – quit screwing around. De-tree and let’s get moving.”
After a moment the duskwood-tree-that-was-Mosely suddenly began to shrink and wither. The branches drooped and folded into the trunk, and the iron-like bark faded and coalesced into the familiar form of the erstwhile and now current bard.
Mosely pouted mockingly at the rogue and said “You’re just jealous because they’re not carving your likeness into the walls.”
He shouldered his pack and headed down the tunnel before stopping and turning around to face the glares of his companions.
“What? Come on guys. You heard Scalrag. We’re wasting time!”
Scalrag stared at Mosely, deep in thought. After a long moment, he nodded.
“Alright,” he said. “That was pretty cool.” Then he picked up his pack and fell in behind Mosely. “You win this round, Bark-Face. Lead the way.”
Part the Second: Underdark Safari
15 Mirtul, ???, The Underdark
At King Phylozope’s command, the party were loaded onto a large mushroom-cap boat, paddled by three sporelings: Stump, Thump and Stoop. These would guide the adventurers along an underground river and back to the surface.
As the fungus barge floated down the darkened, the group took some time to relax their weary limbs. Mosely, still riding high on his tree-stunt, finally noticed that Scalrag was wearing the pewter choker that they’d found in the Vault of Amaunator. “You figure out what that thing does?” he asked conversationally.
Scalrag nodded. “Partly, I think. It makes me feel good. Really good, you know? Like, healthy. Tough. I feel like I could jump out of the boat and tread water for an hour.”
Mosely nodded appreciatively. “Neat. Anything else?”
“Um, I feel like I’m going to live a really long time.”
Beside them, Bjorn laughed.
Several hours later, the mushroom porters guided their spongy craft to a rocky shore illuminated by glowing fungus and bade the group disembark. While Stoop remained in the boat, Stump and Thump argued about the correct way to proceed.
Scalrag clapped his hands over his ears, unable to get the shrill voices out of his head.
“Argh! A curse on Phylozope and his wretched spores! Just shut up, you two!”
Finally, Fauss took the initiative and went to scout ahead, cloaking himself in an Invisibility spell. Down one corridor he found a large flock of stirges, down the other, a pair of huge centipedes. Choosing the latter, the party scared off the huge insects and continued further into the cave complex. Somewhere in the dark, something immense growled.
As they passed a pool, Mosely and Matrim spotted some white crystals sitting in the mud beneath the clear water. Using their magic, they retrieved several handfuls of heavy, salt-like crystals.
A little further on, they stumbled into a small swarm of stirges – but the vile creatures were no match for the heroes. Whilst Jandar swatted two out of the sky with his maul, Fauss quickly cast a Sleep spell that sent the rest of the swarm flopping to the floor of the cave, where they were quickly dispatched.
Emboldened by this quick success, Fauss and Scalrag picked up the pace at the head of the line. As they approached a high-ceilinged cavern, something heavy and dark suddenly dropped from the roof of the cave directly in front of Scalrag and lashed out with a glistening pseudopod!
The black slime slammed Scalrag against the wall of the cave, where he began to twitch and yelp, pulling at his leather breastplate, which sizzled and melted where the monster’s acid was dissolving it. Shaking the now-useless armor from his back, Scalrag used rocky outcroppings along the wall to scamper past the slime and get behind it, then plunged his sword into it. As he withdrew his blade, his arms were stung by a spray of acid, and noted with dismay that his trusty blade was flaking along the edge.
“So, it’s acid all the way down,” Scalrag called to his friends.
Mosely pulled out the lyre he’d received from the sporelings and began plucking on the strings. “I fell into a burning ring of fire,” he sang. “I fell down, down, down and the flames went higher.” An instant later, a Wall of Fire sprang up all around the slime, trapping it in place – but cutting off Scalrag from the rest of the group.
“Just wait for us there, Scalrag,” Dudley called. “The monster will soon be burned up, I am sure.”
Scalrag looked around at the large cavern he now found himself in. Two large pools bubbled and hissed in its center, and glowing mushrooms lined its walls. As he watched in horror, the pools burbled and popped and disgorged not one, but two more black slimes.
Son of a bitch!
“Hey, take your time guys,” Scalrag shouted over his shoulder. “I’ll just take care of these two other slimes myself, okay?”
As the monsters closed in, Scalrag bolted, leaping over another pool (which thankfully did not vomit forth anything bad) and rushed toward the mouth of a tunnel. As he reached it, however, something dark lurched up and slammed into him from behind, tossing him against the rocks once more. Scalrag rolled painfully away from the slime and managed to dig out the potion he’d bought from Rama Dan back in Bowshot. He quaffed it quickly, choking back the awful-tasting brew. He felt the choker around his neck give off a gentle warmth, and felt considerably better – but the slime was still behind him.
“Okay, I officially need help!” he yelled.
“Do not give up, Scalrag – I am coming to save you!” Dudley shouted back. The thought heartened Scalrag – but he kept running.
He soon emerged into another cave. To one side, a huge pile of oozing, slimy eggs sat radiating moisture. Yeah – no way. Keeping his distance, he climbed up a low rise and glanced over his shoulder. The slime was still pursuing him, so Scalrag positioned himself such that the eggs were between him and the slime. With any luck, it would destroy the eggs and draw out whatever had laid them, and Scalrag could escape while the monsters killed each other.
But then there was a light and shouting behind the slime, and it turned back the way it had come. Scalrag loosed a couple of arrows at it, and as he moved to a better firing position saw the slime suddenly inflate like a bellows before popping like a zit. Standing over its remains was Mosely, dusting some of the salt crystals off his hands. Jandar and Bjorn were beside him, with Fauss and Matrim further back – apparently they had managed to destroy the other two slimes.
“Where’s Bjorn?” Scalrag asked.
From somewhere else in the cave network they heard the nordling bellow, “ENOUGH!”, followed by an immense crash of thunder that reverberated through the tunnels.
“Making friends, I guess,” Scalrag joked.
Then something behind him roared.
Without thinking, Scalrag dove into a stand of glowing mushrooms, bow in hand, as a lumbering, beetle-faced hulk emerged from a nearby cave.
Scalrag sprang from his hiding place and took aim – but as he gazed at the creature’s immense eyes, he suddenly felt his head begin to swim. He shook off the confusion and let fly, but his arrow bounced harmlessly off the monstrosity’s armoured flank. Scalrag fell back towards his friends, feeling the wave of nausea subsiding as he broke eye contact.
“Stay back,” he said to his comrades. “It’s eyes are … not right.”
Jandar snorted and hefted his maul. “We’ll see about that! Come get some!” he taunted.
The monster roared in response and hurled itself in a huge, arcing leap across the room, its huge arms raised and vast mandibles snapping.
But as it reached the peak of its jump, it smashed its head into a rocky outcropping on the ceiling and dropped unceremoniously to the ground, where it lay twitching, face-down on the cavern floor.
The heroes looked at one another, nodded – and charged in. Under a flurry of daggers, swords, spells and finished by Jandar’s maul, the fearsome umber hulk died without a fight.
“Did that just happen?” Scalrag asked. Jandar cackled.
Bjorn rejoined them, having blundered alone into a large stirge nest while trying to circumvent Mosely’s Wall of Fire. After killing most of the parasites, he’d finally managed to find his way back. They paused for a short time whilst Fauss butchered the umber hulk, insisting that its chitinous plates could be fashioned into armour. When his gory work was complete, the party followed Stump and Thump deeper into the caves.
Part the Third: Daylight
16 Mirtul, Midday, Near Gillian’s Hill
After another long trek, they at last reached their destination: daylight filled a large cave where fast-moving water flowed. From a hole overhead dangled a rope – and at the end of the rope, dangled the body of a young man.
“We gotta get him down,” Scalrag said quietly.
“We have to get ourselves out,” Fauss said. He cast a Fly spell on himself, and Mosely used his lyre to do the same to Scalrag. The rogue pursed his lips as he drifted into the air.
“Yeah,” he said. “This is alright.” He held out a hand to Mosely and flew the two of them towards the opening high above. The closer they got, the more warmly the sun shone on their faces, the cleaner and fresher the air became, and the lighter their spirits. Scalrag looked down at Mosely, who looked up to meet his eyes as they emerged from the old well into a broad field where a cool breeze danced over bright green grass. Scalrag stopped in mid-air, gazing at Mosely as they hung in the wind.
“I’m still mad about the fire wall,” Scalrag said, and dropped Mosely to the ground. He turned and dove back down the well to get Matrim. Mosely stood, coughed and dusted himself off.
A few minutes later, they were all back on the surface and had pulled up the dead boy. Looking around, Matrim made the kind of sound that people make when they find something they’ve been looking forward to. “Hey guys – I think this is my land!” He pointed off into the distance. “Gillian’s Hill is about a half-mile thataway.”
“Wait, your land?” Fauss asked. “I didn’t know you were from these parts.”
Mat smiled lopsidedly. “Oh, I’m not. I’m just lucky.” He rattled the dice in his pocket.
“Now that I think about it,” the gambler mused as he lit his pipe, “if this is my land, then technically anything on it is also mine. So whatever you make from those monster parts will actually belong to me, Fauss.”
“Do property rights extend underground?” Scalrag wondered.
Fauss shrugged. “I’m not familiar with such laws ,” he said cunningly, “but it seems to me that if you are entitled to anything on this land, then you are also responsible for whatever happens on it. Thus, I believe you would be liable for the damages we have suffered recently.”
Matrim chewed the end of his pipe for moment. “You know what, Fauss? Keep the monster bits – they’re a gift.”
Carrying the body with them, they made their way back to town to discover what had happened during their absence, and to plan their next move …