Dungeon Delving Part 7: A Fungus Among Us

Having solved their very own locked room mystery, the gang decided to take the guard Captain’s strong suggestion seriously and make tracks. Spirits are high and for some moments there on the road as they wave their friend, the innkeeper, goodbye. Beleg and Rhai’s secret business isn’t at the forefront of their minds in the bright autumn morning and Tomlain still has hours before the reality of upcoming life of exile and seclusion weighs upon him again.

Garrick looks particularly chipper, especially compared to the half-dying man who’d given up on the other half that the party had first met in their cell at Northspire Castle. During the recent adventure he displayed a previously unseen energy in connecting all the dots to point to the full story of the murder moste foul and looking at him, you can tell it’s new to him too. He walks in the back of the group striking occasional conversation with Tomlain, sharing with him his knowledge on various things historical and arcane, both of which the prince shows a great deal of interest in.

Unfortunately, this cheerful spell is pierced through by the shrill screaming on the path ahead of them.

Nearly in unison, Beleg, Maghana, Elessana, and Rhai draw their weapons while Beleg and Magnys prepare whatever defensive spells might be needed to protect the group. Something runs at them from out of the underbrush: An elf maiden. She’s an uncommon sight, this far from the Elfwood, but it is not unheard of for them to wander the world from time to time. She looks rough, dirty and covered in slashes where she’d been whipped by branches. She looks wild and disheveled, a look not often seen on elves. Locking eyes with the party, she falls on her knees and begins beseeching something of them in rapid elvish.

“Can anyone understand her?” Maghana asks awkwardly, looking down at the prostrated woman.

“She’s saying… at least I think she’s saying something about her son.” Tomlain responds. He responds to her in a few short elvish syllables, and she nods at him, resuming her speech more slowly, desperation still evident in her shaking hands.

“She says she and her son live alone in a cabin in the forest. He’s very young, and he… heard music? He heard some kind of singing, calling him off their land. She followed him for hours but she couldn’t dissuade him. She tried to move him but he… she thought it was hurting him, whatever had a hold of him. He came to a cave and stepped through. It was too dark to see anything after that and she was… She says she is ashamed, she was too afraid to go in after him. She’s been looking for help for hours, she wants us to come with her.” The elf woman’s speech dies away shortly before Tomlain finishes translating, and she looks up at the party with red-rimmed eyes.

“Which way is this cave?” Elessana asks, Tomlain relates it to her and she rises from the ground, nods to them in gratitude, and leads them off. It is a short distance off, and she was not wrong about the darkness. Unable to see past it, they enter the mouth of the cave and allow their eyes to adjust, some slower than others (looking at you Eogred/Magnys). The cave opens up into a tunnel running further down into the earth before splitting off in two directions. The gang decides to take the westernmost path, but before they embark, Magnys holds up a hand. The elf woman flinches out of embarrassment, as that hand has his druidic focus in it and as I’ve mentioned before, it’s… oddly shaped.

“We don’t know what could be down there, hold up.” He clears his throat and waves his focus over the party and mutters a word in duidic. As he completes the spell, it feels as though a seal has been closed over the group, cutting them off from the rest of the cave and causing their footsteps to make considerably less noise. With the aid of Magnys’ druidcraft they are easily able to blend into the cave avoid awakening anything that might be guarding it.

The tunnel opens up to a cavernous space, filled with the smell of rotting meat and stale air. Remembering their goal to rescue the elf child, they don’t take too long to investigate the chamber, but what they do see doesn’t fill them with confidence. Tables laid out with various instruments ranging from surgical to torturous seem to line the walls, which themselves are covered with markings drawn in the brown of dried blood. A large circular pattern is arrayed in the center of the room, and as they pass it they see on the wall nearest it is a large gate, the bars to a cell whose contents nobody can make out. Thanks to Magnys, they manage to sneak past without having to find out.

Beyond the torture room, the tunnel turns east, and then north, as the party seems to be closing in on the center of the cave structure. It is here that they finally see the chamber eerily illuminated before them in bio-luminescent fungus, a wide circular chamber with what looks like a deep well in the center. On the far end of the well stands a tall man, also looking dusty and damp from too much time underground. Cultist FanaticThe long, red, hooded robe he wears conceals much, but what can be seen of his face and hands reveals pale skin and grey patches where a kind of moldy fungus has taken root. In one such hand he holds a knife. Standing, transfixed, before the man between him and the gaping well, is a small, wide eyed and blonde haired elf boy, no older than 10, practically an infant by their standards. The cultist’s eyes are closed in contemplation of his sacrifice, lids fluttering as if dreaming deeply. However, when the group enters the chamber, he’s pulled from his reverie by an unearthly, high pitched wail of a bright violet mushroom stalk growing by the door. violetFungusThey duck out of the way as a rotted-smelling tendril lashes out at them, swiping the air. The wailing continues, soon joined by three other such mushrooms rooted at the four points of the room.

“W-w-w-who… disturbs me?” The man says with a voice unused to speaking. “You… you will not stop my work. My lady… we will punish you. We will punish you!” Gripping the child by the shoulder, the cultist flings him out of the way for later use and reaches out his empty hand towards the group, expelling a flame of dull, blue-green light which slams into the haft of Eogred’s spear, the spell’s energy dispersing.

Eogred and Elessana charge the fanatic, who seems to pay little mind to the twin gashes they open in his shoulder and upper thigh, his blood pooling slowly, seeming already to congeal around the wounds. Beleg stays with Tomlain and Garrick, sending an eldritch blast rocketing into the cultist, while the elf woman screams amidst the wailing of the mushrooms, running over to help her son.

Magnys sees the cultist’s attention turn from his companions and two the mother and child.

“Wait! I’ve got another idea!” He calls out to nobody in particular listening. Running up to the mother, he raises his focus and points it at the elf child, letting loose a spray of acid…AT THE BABY.

I’m breaking narrative here just to make sure you all appreciate just HOW much of a wild card our Magnys is. As the astute reader may be catching on, in my first entry I said he was solely responsible for the name of our game’s group chat being Magnys Schlong Magnys the Babykillerand the Babykillers– He saw a child about to get sacrificed and, whatever his substitute for reasoning was, told him that the best way to save the child was to make sure the cultist was no longer interested in the child, and the best way to do that was to attack? Because I was actually shocked by the turn of events and wasn’t prepared for things to get that dark that soon, I quickly recovered myself and told him “You conjure a spray of acid directing it at the child. Burns erupt on his skin on contact and the child begins to screech in agony, falling unconscious to the floor.” Back to narrative….

The battle is halted momentarily as all heads turn to Magnys who is standing right next to the mother as he fells her son. The worn and tired looking elven maiden doubles back on Magnys with a fire in her eyes, the kind that brings images of people fighting bears away from their children and lifting carriages off them to mind. With a wordless yell, she tackles Magnys and begins to pummel every inch of him she can reach with her fists as the rest of the room, cultist included, watch on in confusion. Ever the pragmatist, Maghana takes advantage of this opportunity to knock an arrow, which finds a home in the cultists gullet. He doubles over, collapsing onto the floor.

“Get the hells off of me woman, I was helping!” Magnys yelps as she goes about her business on his face. Finally able to wrestle her off of him, he gets to his feet, walking over to the child and drawing his focus once more. “See?” He asks as he waves it over the child’s collapsed form. An arc of healing energy springs from the tip and the child stirs, scrambling to his feet.  She calls to him in elvish and, half-dragging him by the arm, she runs from the room.

“That’s what I call ungratefu–” Magnys starts, but his remark is drowned out by the renewed screeching of the four mushrooms.

The gang watches on in horror as, the screeches pulsating in unison, louder than ever before, the body of the broken cultist begins to writhe on the stone floor at Eogred and Elessana’s feet. Limbs lurching, breath starting again in ragged gasps, fungal spores from the air seem to knit his injuries together. Life returns to the cultist as he rises to his feet once more and in a harsher voice from before, rasping around the recent arrow-wound, he encants a spell which conjures a wicked looking scythe which floats in the air next to Rhai, taking a swipe at her of it’s own volition. He then turns his powers back to Eogred, letting out another gout of blue-green flames, striking him in the chest and knocking him away.

Eogred backs away from the reanimated fanatic and pulls a glass vial from his pouch, a vial of the sleeping poison they recovered from Varen Aldis. He hurls it at the cultist and the liquid soaks into his mottled skin. As his eyes roll back into his skull, the conjured weapon fades into a cloud of spores. Before he hits the ground however, the mushrooms give their pulsating shriek, re-awakening him once more. He snarls as Elessana thrusts with her rapier and cracks her whip, engaging him directly.

“I think we need to destroy these mushrooms!” Beleg calls to his companions. “Otherwise they’ll keep bringing him back as fast as we can keep killing him!” Turning to the nearest mushroom stalk he casts another eldritch bolt of energy into its flank while Rhai finishes cutting it down with her frying pan.

A bolt of flaming energy streaks over Elessana’s shoulder and nearly hits Tomlain, who ducks out of the way with a shout.

“Oh shi–” He gets out before he has to clench his teeth together, feeling the Wild Magic course through him once more. Those nearby prepare to take any necessary evasive action, but he floats back down to his feet, looking down at his hands, then around. “Did it do anything?” He asks, but before he’s answered, Tomlain vanishes. He reappears on the other side of the room a little startled, but otherwise OK.

“Well OK then!” He says a little more confidently, finding himself close to another one of the violet mushroom stalks, “let’s take these things out!” He closes his eyes to push the Wild Magic through him again as he’s been practicing with Beleg and feels it crackling behind his eyelids. He releases it and when he opens his eyes he isn’t prepared for what he sees. “Wait…. oh no… no no! No! Not that!” He screams at the mushroom, which to him looks phantasmically  distorted, terrifying and taunting him with the face of the tutor of he killed back home. He turns tail and tries to put as much distance between himself and the apparition as possible, teleporting across the room again and then running further, backing against the wall.

“Well I guess Tomlain’s out of the fight!” Eogred calls back as he digs his spear into the mushroom on his side, ripping it to pieces. Rhai finishes destroying the one near her and Beleg before running to help Eogred finish his. Maghana and Beleg turn their attention to the last one while Elessana continues to duel the cultist, who’s once more summoned the ghostly scythe. Finally, relative quiet settles on the group as the last one dies. The cultist gasps, but stays on his feet, his skin nearly covered in grey, fuzzy mold as he begins to lose all resemblance to humanity. He lashes out at Elessana with the scythe and his sacrificial knife. She ducks the scythe and parries the dagger easily, pressing her advantage and beheading the cultist. The skin around his neck comes apart easily, as if it were already half-decomposed. His body slumps back down where it stays, while the head falls into the well. Five full seconds later, a distant splash is heard.

“Thank gods that noise is gone.” Maghana says, settling back into the quiet of the room. With the cultist and mushrooms dispatched, the gang takes a moment to take in their surroundings. Tomlain snaps out of his whatever terror his last surge inflicted on him and joins Garrick in studying the runic circle carved around the well, inlaid with fresh, red blood pooling in the grooves. Beleg finds a back door to the chamber which contains a chest of supplies, including a heavily patched cloak which his arcane sight shows to be steeped in conjuration enchantments. He also finds a sack of some kind of magical dust compound, which he holds onto until he can get it identified.

“Mission accomplished, I guess.” Elessana addresses the group. “I guess we should get—”

She’s cut off by a familiar shrieking sound coming from down the tunnel the way they came, followed by an equally familiar elvish scream, and the sounds of a large gate being cranked open…

***

And that’s where I’ll leave you this week. I’m sure you love fungus dungeons so much that you won’t mind me splitting this dungeon into two entries– so stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion next time!

 

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