“Okay. So,” said Liberty.
“Damned shriekers,” rumbled Drake.
“I’m guessing they are going to start screaming again if we get closer,” said Xan. Mom grunted in agreement.
Liberty nodded. “I’m sure they will. We’d better take them out.”
“So, let’s take them out from here,” said Xan, looking at the sorcerer and alchemist expectantly.
“Fire bomb?” she said to Drake.
“Yeah, I can torch whatever needs torching.”
Liberty moved to the side so Drake could get a line on the loud mushrooms. His eyebrows raised as he took in the fungus-covered chamber. “Yeah… So that’s not Beggar’s Gold,” he said of the yellow spores carpeting the chamber floor. “That foul yellow mold is just about a death trap. Best way through? Watch it burn.”
Xan grinned at him. “Maybe you should lead the way for a bit, Drake.” He handed the alchemist the enchanted ring to light his way.
“Yeah, no prob. You all ought to stand back a bit for this.” His companions complied and Drake systematically torched the shriekers and blackened the yellow mold on most of the floor.
“Oh, wow that stinks,” Liberty complained, covering her nose and mouth.
“Yeah, hang on a moment more. I’m wonderin’ if I can get a sample…” Liberty facepalmed as Drake produced a vial and scraping knife from his pack and leaned down to collect some of the yellow mold. When the blade touched the fungus, a cloud of spores erupted in a ten-foot cloud that enveloped the alchemist. He coughed a couple of times, but did not otherwise react as he collected his samples. Once he was satisfied, he burned the last patch with alchemist’s fire.
“Safe yet, Cornelius?” Xan asked.
Drake turned back to his companions, dusting the spores off of himself. “Yeah, should be. That was foul. Think I got some in my … me.” Mom gave him an incredulous look and the alchemist nodded. “Yeah… Spore cloud. Highly toxic.”
“Great,” said the rogue. “It can join that worm you drank a while back. Lead the way.”
With a warning to stay a few steps back in case of additional mold, Drake crossed the room and entered a narrower passage that curved to the north. The gently sloping passageway ended in a large chamber dominated on the far side by a pool of water formed by a leaking cistern above before flowing out of the room in a thin stream. A soft blue glow emanated from the bottom of the pool.
Anticipating danger, Drake readied a couple of vials before crossing the stream. He looked into the water and saw the glow was due to a phosphorescent fungus growing at the bottom. The pool was blessedly unoccupied. “Seems clear,” he reported. “Just more glowing fungus.”
Two narrow tunnels exited the pool area to the west and the adventurers opted for the southernmost path. Presently, the cavern opened up to a vast chamber over forty feet in height with a shelf twenty feet above the floor off to one side. A short cage containing pent-up livestock had been constructed on the wall to their left. A barred off passageway was set into the south wall. Faint patches of glowing moss dimly lit this chamber, but they didn’t see any immediate threats.
Then five dark elf warriors peeled out of the shadows around the chamber, and the adventurers heard the chant of an unseen spellcaster coming from the shelf. They all felt their minds begin to cloud, but everyone managed to fight off the spell – except for Xan. Drake downed the mutagen and began the alchemical change as he advanced on one of the drow warriors. In his confusion, Xan turned on Liberty, who was unprepared for the bladed assault. “Gods damn it!” she cried before collapsing to the floor, bleeding most profusely. Mom cried out in alarm, then stepped up between the rogue and the sorcerer, applying Kord’s healing prayers to the latter. Liberty regained consciousness abruptly.
The dark elves advanced, three closing with the alchemist and the other two firing hand-crossbow bolts at Xan and Mom in the corridor. Drake was stabbed once, but the rest of the attacks failed to produce any meaningful results. Three more drow warriors appeared in the pool chamber to flank the adventurers. Then the enemy spellcaster – a priestess of some dark god – appeared. She sauntered out of the darkened corridor atop the rise and cast another spell. A burst of sound erupted on the adventurers gathered in the tunnel and Xan was stunned.
Drake took a step away from the melee and drank the extract in his hand – and the feral hulk grew to the size of an ogre as a shimmering shield of force appeared around him. The dark elves’ surprise was written across their faces in broad strokes. Liberty regained her feet and cast haste on herself and her fellows. Mom activated the magic of the frost axe, which had lapsed during their exploration of the entry caverns and took a defensive stance near Liberty. A crossbow bolt from the flanking dark elves narrowly missed Mom, and Liberty managed to avoid the flashing rapier of another warrior. The drow in the large chamber swarmed the enlarged alchemist stabbing furiously with their rapiers, and Drake’s blood flowed freely. On top of that, he found himself under attack by a floating morningstar made of force – conjured by the priestess’s will.
“Cripes! Could use some support,” Drake complained, lashing out at the drow around him. He tore one apart and bloodied a second with his savage assault. Then he took a tactical step back toward his companions, hoping that his requested assistance would soon be forthcoming. Xan was too busy trying to cut imagined Kyuss worms out of his arm. Liberty, however, slipped into the large room and lent a friendly fireball to the proceedings. The resulting explosion finished off the brutalized dark elf and very badly burned the other three. Satisfied that Liberty was safe enough for the moment, Mom raged and got his kill on. Three strokes of the freezing axe produced two more dead drow.
The remaining warriors continued coming after Drake, but only one managed to penetrate his defenses. The last of the flanking dark elves advanced on Mom, but could not break through the barclerian’s wild defenses. The warrior gulped audibly, certain he was gazing upon his doom. Mom grinned wickedly. Drake was struck again by the spiritual morningstar, and the priestess’s next spell brought the lights down. She vanished in the murk, and even Drake’s borrowed ring of continual light could not pierce the darkness. Where the spells overlapped, only the dim light of the glowing fungus provided any visibility.
“Fe-fi-fo-fum!” Drake rumbled, slaying all but the last of the warriors with his vicious claws. Messily. The final one lasted but a moment longer before the alchemist bit his head off – literally. Xan continued cutting himself in an effort to rid himself of phantom parasites. Liberty strode farther into the room and launched a fireball up and at the edge of the darkness. In the flash of the explosion, she was gratified to see the priestess leap away from the flames. Mom finished off the last of the dark elf warriors.
Drake was struck again by the spiritual weapon, and they all heard the chant of another divine spell from above. “Damn it all!” the alchemist complained, pulling and draining a curative extract. His many wounds began to knit themselves back together, providing much-needed relief to the sorely wounded mutant. Liberty ascended the shelf along the natural ramp and came to stand directly beside the eerie wall of darkness, ready to strike with a spell should the priestess show herself. Mom rushed up after her and stepped into the darkness, surprised to find that even his mother’s eyes could not see in the murk.
Then the priestess stepped out of the darkness right beside Liberty, and before the sorcerer could complete her spell, the dark elf smashed her in the head with an enchanted morningstar, releasing the spell contained within. Liberty was trapped inside her own body, held immobilized by the sinister enchantment.
Drake advanced, bringing the light with him and dispelling some of the priestess’s spell of darkness. He reached out a clawed hand and grabbed onto the dark elf, pulling her into a crushing embrace. Snapping out of the immobilization with a force of will, Liberty sent a pair of scorching rays at the dark elf, but the magic flames washed over her harmlessly. Surprised, the sorcerer took a cautious step back. Mom brought the axe to bear, but despite her struggle with the burly alchemist, the priestess evaded two of the three powerful slashes. Drake was struck again by the spiritual morningstar again while the priestess struggled to escape, but she could not free herself.
Then the alchemist let her go. She was surprised for a moment, and then his claws came rushing in, and it was all she could do to avoid them. But avoid them she did. Not so the alchemist’s bite. Xan stopped cutting himself and started babbling incoherently. And then Liberty brought the combat to a close with another pair of scorching rays that managed to stick. The rogue recovered his wits, the magical darkness faded, the spiritual morningstar dissolved, and the drow priestess slumped lifeless to the floor.
Drake let out a raspy chuckle. “Could really use a little of that blessing right now,” he said. Mom let his rage bleed out of him and began calling on Kord to heal his companions. They offered their thanks in turn.
From the dim light provided by the continual flame, Xan said, “Gods, I am really starting to hate magic users.”
“Me too,” Liberty said without irony.
“Heh,” coughed Drake. “Gotta just power through it, Xan.”
Xan grimaced. “I’m sorry, Lib. I wasn’t in my right mind, but I do realize what I just did. I don’t really know what to say.”
“I know, Xan.” She sighed. “Don’t worry about it. That spell almost affected me, too.”
“Friggin’ wall of black elves…” rumbled Drake.
“Yeah…” said Liberty. She looked over the fallen drow with (mostly) revulsion.
“I thought we were done for when Xan started cutting,” said Mom.
Xan barely contained a chuckle. “I have to admit, two weapons feels pretty natural. Can’t wait to actually use it on an enemy.”
“You may get your chance yet,” said Liberty.
The drow warriors only possessed mundane arms and equipment, but in addition to her magical morningstar, the priestess was clad in an enchanted breastplate. Liberty swiftly identified these, and Mom upgraded from his chainmail to the dead priestess’s armor. It was still warm inside. The sorcerer tried out the heft of the spell storing morningstar, nodding in satisfaction.
“I suggest we move quickly now,” said Xan. “Everyone here must know something’s up.”
They considered the exit to the south blocked by a wall of iron bars ran from floor to ceiling. A locked iron door was set into the bars, but the key they’d found on the priestess’s body seemed to fit. Just inside the iron door lay four rotting corpses with large gaping holes in their heads. Beyond them was a chamber full of debris, scraps of cloth, mounds of straw, and pools of filth. Dark corridors stretched out from the east side of the chamber, but they proved short, circular, and empty.
“Anyone know what’s up with the giant holes in these prisoners’ heads?” said Xan.
Liberty’s nose wrinkled as she took a closer look at one of them. “Sorry, no.” Mom grunted negatively.
Drake grimaced. “Never seen such a thing. However, it’s honestly quite horrifying. Whether something is boring in or burrowing out … I don’t want to find out.”
“Hmm… Okay, then.” He led the others out of the darkened jail, then moved toward the tunnel to the southwest. The cavern corridor widened into a small chamber before continuing onward. The floor had been smoothed there, and in the center was a large faintly glowing – and familiar – purple symbol.
Everyone froze in place when Xan commanded them to stop. “There’s a trap on the ceiling here. Back up while I deal with it.” They acquiesced to the rogue’s very reasonable request while he climbed up the wall to tend to the magical trap above. A few moments later, he was satisfied that the power runes had been sufficiently marred to render the spell inert, and so he climbed back down.
“All better now. We can keep on.”
Set into the north cavern wall of the next foreboding chamber were a pair of tall white marble double doors, streaked with veins of a faintly glowing purple mineral. Flanking the doors was a pair of taller ivory columns, each bearing a tentacular symbol burned into its surface. A third pillar connected ceiling to floor on the south side of the room. Liberty tried to whistle appreciatively.
“Think we are on the right track?” Xan said rhetorically.
“Seems like we have to be,” Liberty answered anyway. Mom grunted in agreement. Shaking his head, the rogue moved over to inspect the doors more closely.
The half-orc frowned up into the darkened recesses of the chamber’s ceiling thoughtfully. “I think there’s something up there,” he said. “Something … squishy?”
“Up … where?” said Xan, turning around.
“Look up!” Mom said suddenly, pointing behind the nearest pillar. He gasped and said, “Behind all the pillars!”
Three creatures hung from the ceiling in the shadows of the columns. For each, six purple tentacles supported a bulbous alien eye dripping with a viscous slime. The star-shaped pupil moved rapidly about scanning the area, and two longer tentacles ended in razor-sharp claws and undulated hypnotically in the air around each of the horrific creatures.
“Uh oh,” said Liberty.