Dungeon Delving Part 12: Eldritch Machinations

Hey all, sorry about my absence from the web, all that cookie fame must’ve got to my head. I kid. Thanksgiving happened and kept me away from my desk, but don’t worry, I’m back! So last time we left off, our heroes were descending into the sewers under the dubious direction of Gaff and Daff, two guys who apparently live down there. After finally convincing them to lead them to their supposed treasure, we join the action as the procession of Gaff, Daff, Natasha, and the party make it to a large stone door.

“Raff wen’ in there ’bout 3 weeks ago, ‘sat right?” Daff says.

“Too right, wen’ in to get the treasure” Gaff replies.

“Our treasure.” Daff adds, for good measure.

“Yes, we remember.” Elessana says, resting her hand on her rapier, should the idiot brothers forget how she convinced them to lead them down here in the first place. “You guys realize he’s either dead in there or found the treasure and run off with it, right?”

“Raff?” Daff asks, aghast.

“‘e wouldn’t!” Says Gaff, scandalized.

“‘Cept that time when you was kids.” Says Daff.

“Oh right, that time. Well that was dif’rent.” Says Gaff.

“Too right.” Says Daff.

“I mean, he did make off wiv somethin’ of mine when I was waitin’ to come back wiv it.” Says Gaff.

“Pretty valuable too.” Says Daff.

“I–” Attempts Gaff.

“Enough!” Natasha snaps at the pair of them. “New rule, those two aren’t allowed to speak again or else they both get turned into something nobody wants to be turned into, got it? Go ahead, ask me if I’m joking. Ask me.” She puts her hands on her hips and raises an eyebrow in challenge. Daff opens his mouth and is silenced by a surprisingly lucid elbow jab from his esteemed colleague, shutting it once more.

“Good.” She says as she returns her attention to the heavy stone door in the archway at the end of the makeshift tunnel Gaff and Daff had lead them down, her driftglobe re-positioning itself for better light. It’s the color of coal ash, deep gray almost to the point of blackness with lighter veins throughout. Next to it on the wall of the cavern is a simple lever.

“I suppose there’s nothing else for it.” Rhai says as they examine the door. “Dibs on pulling the lever!” She reaches up to it and pulls down, the mechanism behind it giving a groaning thud as the stone archway opens from the bottom, the stone slab of a door raising up. Elessana, Magnys, and Beleg make their way through the door before–

BOOM.

As Beleg passes through last, before Eogred can follow behind, the door slams shut, sending slight tremors through the floor around it. Rhai jumps back on the lever, but it’s unresponsive…

Inside:

Elessana, Beleg, and Magnys find themselves trapped in what looks like an ancient anteroom. At one end of the elongated almost-corridor is the door they came from, at the other end is presumably the way forward. Between them, lying on the ground by the east wall is the ragged, emaciated remains of–

“Raff, I presume.” Magnys examines Raff’s body. He looks starved, but the rest of the room doesn’t have the weathered, lived-in look of a place someone stayed in long enough to starve. The only signs of Raff’s occupation are around him by the wall– scuff marks, dirt, other umm…traces.

“Wait. What is that?” Beleg asks, tearing his gaze away from the corpse. He examines the wall that the body is hunched before and sees a contraption: Three hourglasses of different sizes are mounted on the wall and underneath them in the center is another single lever. Raff’s wilted arm lies at his side as if it could have just fallen from gripping the lever, like he died pulling it.

“Well this is clearly a trap.” Elessana says, examining the lever herself. “If there wasn’t a supposedly legendary treasure at the end of this thing, I’d be pretty upset right now. What do you think, the only way is forward, right?”

Outside:

“What do you think the treasure is?” Rhai muses while trying to coax a little sewer rat from its hidey-hole.

“Presumably something of legend, this far down. The door looks like it could be left over from the old city ruins from millennia ago. And yes, you’re still not allowed to speak so don’t weigh in.” Natasha answers, adding a glance at Daff and Gaff.

The rat comes out and sniffs at a breadcrumb Rhai produces from her pack, then disappears back into the stonework.

“Damn it.” Rhai mutters under her breath. Daff begins humming a tune to himself, not technically violating the no-talking rule. Rhai finds herself bouncing to the strangely familiar melody…

Inside:

“Ok, well, we’re out of options. Let’s give it a whirl.” Magnys says after they’ve examined every spare inch of the room for any sorts of mechanisms, arcane symbols, or clues of any kind. Elessana nods. Beleg is nervous. Magnys grips the lever and pulls it.

At once, all three hourglasses invert and begin a countdown. The smallest hour glass seems to only contain a minute of sand at most. When that sand is half gone, the entire room is racked with a rumble and somewhere is the resounding clang of a bell, some kind of alarm from deep within the depths of the ruins.

“Ok, did anyone else not like that alarm!?” Beleg hisses nervously. As the smallest hourglass empties there is another rumble, another clang, this one stronger as if something large is closing in on them.

“We’re being timed, we need to figure out the next part of the puzzle before whatever time we have runs out!” Elessana shouts, casting her eyes around wildly. The room however, remains unchanged as the alarm sounds again, but stronger.

Outside:

“Did you hear that?” Maghana asks as she presses her ear against the stone door.

“Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out that song he’s humming. Where the hells have I heard that before?” Rhai says, scratching her head and performing a musing jig along with Gaff’s humming.

“Not the song. Something’s going on inside there.” Eogred says, pacing behind Maghana.

“Wait.” Natasha says slowly. “Oh no. Oh no we’ve got to get them out of there, this is definitely a trap!”

“What do you mean?” Maghana asks.

“You two, I’m sorry to say your friend is dead and you’ve wasted our time. The ‘treasure’ they were looking for is the supposed Lost Bow of Thandara.” She says to Gaff and Daff particularly.

“The Lost Bow of Thandara!” Rhai shouts, “I knew I recognized that song! That bard guy, Red, said he got a lot of requests for that one in Ellandale.”

“It makes sense. The resting place of the Bow of Thandara is a bit of a local legend, one I’m sorry to say has little basis in historical fact. Whoever built this trap must’ve known the reputation it had here and that people might come down here looking for it. Still, this far down, that is a long con… Who would build something like this? Unless…” Natasha frowns, looking back at the doorway.

Inside:

The last, largest hourglass is half empty, or full depending on your outlook in life. The alarms are clanging almost every second now, filling the chamber with a cacophonous noise and tensions are high.

“There’s nothing here! I don’t get what we’re meant to be doing!” Elessana shouts over the noise. Seconds remain on the hourglass and then, suddenly, the noise stops. She looks around wildly and sees Beleg clutching the lever, having just pulled it. As she watches him she sees the hourglasses inverting once more, the smallest one beginning to pour its sand back the way it came, starting the time over.

“I, um, I wasn’t sure that would work.” Beleg says, wiping some sweat from his brow. They watch the hourglasses begin to count down again and, once more, the alarms begin to sound as they progress to empty.

“Well, I guess we’re dying, that’s it.” Magnys says, sounding annoyed. They wait for something more to happen, but time merely brings the alarms again. As they reach their previous severity, Elessana pulls down the lever again, inverting the hourglasses. Allowing them to pour for a moment, she immediately pulls the lever again, and as soon as they stopped the clanging, rumbling alarms are back.

“Pull it! Pull it! Pull it!” Beleg yelps as she does so, restoring their temporary calm.

“I thought that might be it.” Elessana says apologetically.

Outside:

Eogred throws his shoulder against the door while Maghana tries the lever again, neither has any effect. Rhai sits down and manages to coax another rat out of the stonework, which is soon followed by another, and another, until a veritable colony of rats sits before her, patiently awaiting their due breadcrumbs.

“YES!” She shouts, “Rat cult! Hey guys, look, I started a rat cult!”

Inside:

BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG goes the alarm. Elessana stands ready at the lever for when she must reset the time again when Magnys, sitting in the corner, calls out:

“Ok now I’m really done! What’s at the other end of this thing that’s worth all this!?”

“Fabulous gods-damned treasure! Adventure! It must be some kind of test! I’ve almost got this figured out!” Elessana shouts back while Beleg hugs himself.

“No, you don’t! I give up, Beleg’s clearly given up several cycles ago, now at what point does your determination stop being heroic and starts being fucking stupid?” Magnys calls back. “If you had any self-respect at this point you would just let the hourglass time out. Join us in the loser’s circle. It’s much nicer.”

“How did I not notice you were such a buzzkill all this time?” Elessana retorts.

“I dunno I think might…” Beleg begins but is interrupted by another clang as Elessana resets the hourglasses three more times in quick succession.

“I’m just being realistic, and I realistically don’t wanna go the same way as our roommate over there.” He says motioning to Raff’s body.

“Here, watch this for me.” Elessana says to Beleg, turning over lever duty as she rounds on Magnys. “You want to know what I think? I think I’m in charge here. Gods know someone has to be and I’m clearly the only one with the right mindset. So I would appreciate a little less insubordination and a little more–” Elessana says, holding a threatening finger up at Magnys as the alarms crash around them… and then stop.

Beleg looks nervous as Elessana looks at him, and then at the hourglasses on the wall which he allowed to run empty.

“I um… I thought, y’know. What if this was a test, but like, the opposite of how we thought?” He says. The door behind them, miraculously, begins to creep slowly open. “And I really don’t think this is a door.” He says, pointing forward. Beleg summons up a piece of his strange arcane energy, hurling it over at the door and a thunderous shock-wave hits the stone like the head of a mallet, gouging out a chunk from it big enough for someone to fir their head in.

“It wasn’t even a door this whole time?” Elessana’s mouth hangs open as her eyes rest on the hole in the door with nothing but more solid stone behind it. She looks at Magnys. “How did you figure it out?”

“Sorry, what? Sorta hard of hearing after all the, y’know. Figure what?” He asks, confused. “Well hot shit, the door’s open!” Magnys says, ducking through the open portion, out of the room.

“You still look kind of, you know…” Beleg says to Elessana. “Frustrated?”

“I’m just annoyed I can’t tell which of us was right…” She says. Beleg shrugs.

Outside:

“No! Come back! Rats! Come back and be my rat cult again!” Rhai calls after her wayward followers, who ditched her when she ran out of bread.

“I’ve got it!” Natasha says, evidently finding something on the archway. Suddenly it begins to open and Magnys climbs out, followed by Beleg and then Elessana, all three looking harried.

“Are you all ok?” Eogred asks, offering Magnys his arm as he climbs through the archway. Magnys shakes him off. “What was it, how did you get out?”

Beleg explains to the group the hourglass mechanisms, the alarms, the lever, and their time in the room.

“Of course.” Natasha says as he finishes. “I thought it would be something like that when I found this.” She points to a symbol etched at the base of the stonework, depicting a white, jaw-less skull. “It’s the mark of Cyric, the god of lies and madness. Just the kind of pointless greed trap he or his followers would bury deep beneath the city on the off chance someone stumbles across and refuses to give up on at the promise of treasure. It’s clever, but sick. To think” She says, this last part to Gaff and Daff, “that poor idiot probably still thought he’d come out rich up till the last pull.”

“You mean–?” Gaff asks, daring finally to speak.

“Afraid so.” Natasha answers. “Now get out of her and count yourselves lucky it wasn’t you. Oh, and beware of the plague if you get to the surface.” Without needing to be told twice, the two scurry back up the tunnel as the rest of the gang takes a quick breather.

[Now, credit to my players, they actually solved this puzzle a lot quicker than it seems here, where I let it play out longer just so you the reader could get the point, ’cause like, otherwise why include it? The reason I split the groups was because Beleg, Elessana, and Magnys had to log off early the session before when I let the other’s have a go at it without them. They took a bit longer to figure it out but got there relatively quickly. So then at the beginning of the next session the three who didn’t get to try it the last time were given the puzzle and guessed they needed to let it time out after the first or second flip. I suppose that’s what I get when I steal puzzles from internet forums. That said, if you know any good ones, comment on here your favorites.]

After catching their breath, the gang makes their way back up the tunnel as Natasha remarks on what a terrific waste of time this has been. They find their way to the sewer where they crossed paths with Gaff and Daff.

“Ahhh” Beleg breathes deeply and exhales, “It’s nice being out from that tiny, rocky tunnel and back out into the open!” He says in an uncharacteristically bright tone. On being met by strange looks he says, defensively, “What? I like it here!”

Back on the path, they come to the first fork in the sewer. Natasha pulls a wand from one of her pockets and releases one of its charges, scanning the area for whatever traces of arcana she’s been following.

“It should be down one of these passages.” She says as she stows the wand as they arrive at a fork in the sewer system. The gang decides to check the southern-most passage first, and to their luck they find some equipment stashed away in an old chest that Maghana is able to unlock no problem.

“I guess it’s not stealing if the person who put it there probably died, right?” Elessana said as Eogred adds a few good arrows from the chest to his quiver.

“That’s the spirit.” Maghana mutters nonchalantly. The rest of the passage is a dead end, and they return to the fork and find a trapdoor at the end of the eastern passage. “Emphasis on the ‘trap.” Maghana adds as she unlocks it, disarming a simple wire-trap which looks like it’d been set to sever the rope ladder underneath the door once triggered.

Once they climb down, Natasha confirms with another wave of her wand that whatever they’re looking for, they’re close to it. Through the next succession of sewer maintenance chambers, they begin to here a grinding, metallic sort of noise. An unsettling whirr followed by the screech of machinery.  Following the noise, Eogred and Maghana perform some recon, and eventually they see it.

Sitting there, directly beneath a small waterfall feeding a cistern of sewer water and cranking away is a boulder-sized piece of machinery comprised of tarnished black gears and gem-encrusted wheels spinning around, giving off a foul-smelling black smoke and something else… an aura of disquiet. They Eldritch Machineknew of course that any machine is only as evil or as good as its maker’s intention, but something about the monstrosity they saw before them now seemed to suggest otherwise. This was something itself evil, built for evil intention.

Standing knee deep in the water at the center of the room was a figure wearing a robe of a familiar mottled green, brown, and grey color, the same color robe that the cultist in the cave wore. The cultist seemed to be minding the machine, his eyes closed, head arched back, lips moving soundlessly as he seemed to be channeling something into it…

Around the room are several growths of fungus not unlike the cave in the forest as well. Remembering what they were capable of, they took their intel back to the group and came up with a plan of action.

“We should try and strike at the mushrooms first,”

Eogred says after describing the layout of the room, “make sure if we kill him he doesn’t get back up again.” They all nod as they take their positions.

Of the four large mushroom growths for each cardinal direction, the westernmost one was closest to where they were coming from. Magnys, showing some impressive agility for his equally impressive age, works his way around the edge of the room towards it before uttering a druidic word and conjuring a flame into his hand. Covering it with his other as best as he can to avoid detection, he hurls the flame at the mushroom. Expecting the piercing shriek from before, the mushroom merely gives off a wet gurgle of a noise in response. Magnys turns back to the group, shrugging to them and mouthing, “what now?”

Before they had time to respond, Magnys’ question was answered as one by one, a rough dozen smaller tentacled fungal creatures began to awaken, swarming from their pod at the place of impact from the fire. They scurry towards Magnys as the rest of the group notices that, the room’s defenses having clearly been triggered, the other three mushroom pods were now alive with the slithering of slimy fungal tentacles.

“Shi–!” Magnys says as one of the tentacles almost catches him in the leg. The rest of the team rushes into the room as the fungal creatures take a defensive position around the machine.

“We need to shut that thing down!” Natasha cries over the opening sounds of the skirmish. Rhai quickly finds herself surrounded as she delivers a deft frying pan blow and several spinning kicks to the foes around her. Before long Elessana joins her as the two spearhead through the mob to try to reach the center. Eogred hangs back, rapidly firing his bow into the oncoming swarm, taking some pressure off his friends while Beleg summons up another gout of eldritch thunder, the force of which leaves a shatter-pattern on the stone floor around where it strikes.

In all of this, Maghana melts into the background, weaving her way in and out of the little mushroom monsters as the cultist at the center becomes aware of his predicament. She gets the drop on him. Up close he’s pale like the other one, his skin is a musty grey in patches, while other places seemed to be covered in a light, fine, white hair-like substance. He makes some attempt to manipulate the controls of the machine, but before he’s able he finds himself preoccupied with the sight of the rapier blade emerging from the center of his chest. The cultist falls to the floor, into the cistern, and Maghana wipes his thick, brownish blood from her sword.

Natasha hangs back in the fight, waving a hand in the direction of a group of oncoming mushrooms. At this, her eyes flash white and Eogred’s next to her do as well for a moment. His next shot pierces the weakest spot in the creatures carapace.

“Uhh… oh… damn…” Tomlain says quietly from behind Eogred. Eogred spins around and pulls Natasha out of the potential blast radius as Tomlain’s eyes glow purple and his feet rise from the floor momentarily. The magic explodes out of him and Tomlain vanishes, reappearing on the opposite side of the room in the middle of the last group of mushrooms. He sustains several bludgeoning hits from their grey, slimy tentacles before Rhai, Elessana, and Maghana manage to dispatch them. Magnys dives after the cultist’s body at the base of the machine ensuring it doesn’t flow down into the drain. He slips in the process, spilling over into the knee-high sewer-water. The last of the mushrooms gurgle their last as he rights himself.

Natasha is already stepping over their remains distastefully as she begins an examination of the machine in the center of the cistern. Beleg discovers the mad scrawled handwriting of the cultist in a journal on the body as Natasha opens up a valve on the machine, reaching her entire arm into whatever squelching substance is inside. She draws her hand out covered in a slimy viscous secretion which she bottles up in a neat little flask.

“It looks like this is what was distributing the plague.” She says. “As I thought, it seems to be an arcano-chemical concoction which transmits the virus via the curse, hence its localization to the radius of the machine’s coverage.” She says, examining the contents of the flask.

“Speak Common, did we stop it? Did we win?” Rhai asks as she tries prying some of the gemstones mounted in the spokes of a wheel free.

“No, this is just the transmitter. We stopped the spread, but I suspect directly beneath us is the source of the curse. I’m guessing they would have consecrated some of the ground below in the name of their demon lord. That dark consecration acts as the initial infection. In order to wipe out the plague, we’ll need to cut off the source completely before a cure can be found. With these samples though, I’m confident I can synthesize one.” Natasha answers.

“So that it? Downwards and onwards?” Elessana asks.

“I think not.” Natasha replies. “Whatever’s down there isn’t going to be pretty, you’ll need to prepare. I’ve got to make some preparations of my own on the purification ritual necessary as well. We need to return to the surface and, as much as it pains me to say it, enlist some help.” Beleg looks saddened.

“Too bad. I like it down here…” He says.

 

[That’s it for this week! Though, since I said “hey, reader, here’s this journal but not what it says,” you can find the contents of the journal copy/pasted below directly from the contents of my campaign’s Roll20 forum:       ]

 

Cultist’s Journal

 

The following the few legible entries Beleg was able to discover from the journal of the cultist in the sewer…

Entry 1
Left Aren today, work dried up. Farming mostly in halfling country, and the harvest is near complete. I might make my way south for the coast. Work on the sea pays well with the war on, if you can find it. Reyna hated leaving, I could tell. She loved the country lifestyle, where it seemed even the poor wives can be happy. I’ll make it up to her. Gods help her she deserves it, putting up with me for a husband…

Entry 2
We’ve been long on the road today and Reyna says I’ll catch something walking barefoot. I figure I’ve made it this far and if I can enjoy the last of the sun and save my boot’s soles, I’ll chance it. Damn boots are already chocked full of holes.

Entry 3
Ye Gods, I can’t believe my luck!! Our food had near run out when I struck up a gig in Lyria, west of Ellandale. Mining, if you’d believe it. Never figured myself for a miner, but then I never figured myself poor either. Mayhap I’ll take to one as well as the other. I’m having to stay in the workman’s house near the mine and I’ve set so Reyna can stay at the inn busing tables and the like. It’s hard to spend time apart, but I have to make this work…

Entry 4
Made a damn fool of meself today. First day on the wretched job and I nearly get crushed by cave-in. Roof of the tunnel just about missed crushing me and I was stuck there for what felt like hours. I called for help, tried screaming I’m ashamed to admit, but nobody would come. I’ve never been able to stand small spaces and it wasn’t long till it felt hard to breathe in there. I even started to see things, I think. It was like a sickly mist hung about the air and I felt like things were crawling about my skin. When the boys finally dug me out, laughing– damn them, they told of the gasses sometimes found in the mines, recommended I bring a canary next time. Smug bastards.

Entry 5
Things are picking up. Only been a couple weeks since I started but I’m taking to it quicker now. The men are starting to respect me more and I even don’t mind the dark so much anymore. I only just wish the walls didn’t seem so small. I spent this past weekend with Reyna, brought her fresh jam from town and we ate the whole jar with some bread she’d made herself in the kitchen. Took my mind right off the dark.

Entry 6
Some of the men are talking strange about me. I thought they were easing up with the hazing, but some of em have told tales to the foremen that I keep them awake at night, moaning and muttering in my sleep. Nonsense, of course, I’m not some moon-brained pixie. Not that it matters. In a few weeks time we’ll have enough saved up to move where prospects are better, mayhap try our luck in the city.

Entry 7
It’s been a while since I picked up this book. Couldn’t face admitting it to myself, but something is wrong. Reyna took ill not too long after my last entry. She’s been writing daily but then the letters stopped. I took to town as soon as I could and to be honest, the foreman was glad to see the back f me. I shelled out more of our savings than know she’d want me to spare for Lyra’s doctor to see to her, but he couldn’t find nothing. He recommended I take her to the temple, but I know she has difficulties with the gods. I’ll have to speak my piece for the two of us.

Entry 8
I saw it. The moment the light left her eyes. It was beautiful. I wanted to retch. She was gone from me, separated by a moment, just that, a moment, and suddenly I was hurdling further and further away from when my wife still lived. I saw it. I saw it.

Entry 9
I wandered back to the workhouse in my sleep last night. When I awoke  I was on the steps, I didn’t remmbe going, but thought I must need my job back. Foreman rfused, said I’d scared his men half to deth, told me to get checked out. I looked green, pallid. I hit him. For fuck’s sake, did his wife die? I thought if nything the drk could soothe me, tak my mind off the dreams that’ve been keeping me up.

Entry 10
I…can’t think lately–can’t hardly writ, hands shaking…[illegible]…then I saw it–a way, I cn se her again. Sh’s still their in the moment, far away, so far, what did she look like agian? Reyna. I cn here a scraching sound beneath the skin, inside my ears, my own bowns scraping togethr, growin, like little voices, which tell me tales…[illegible]…that what they say must be separate c-n be made One! She promeses.

I feel it now. I accept her. My lady, who planted the seed within me, the divine seed to surpass the divine, to downcast the gods, to downcast the gods and devils and demons and all those who tormen(i feel so lost so cold where have I gone, R, where are you R???)t me, those wicked souls thosewickeIREGECTTHEWYRMIREGECTTHEWYRMIREGECTTHEWYRMIREGECTTHEWYRMIREGECTTHEWYRMIRthat which parted may be made wholeEGECTTHEWYRMIREGECTTHEWYRMIREGECTTHEWYRMd beings who make us wicked I killed the foreman and the workers and the doctor and the priest (that which has been parted may be made whole)I stole the iron from the mind my lady, my sweet lady Zuggtmoy has work for me to dolivings so, o living so– so lst night i noticed a fine whit fur covering my left arm my skin seems greyer those who seem e turn their heds adn rush away i have no time for them the work goes onthat that which is parted can through her be whole be one be forever and she can be returned to me my wife my sweet what was her NAME? Thereissomuchinmyheadnow and shefillsme with purposwithinstructionsandImustbuild, and gonowtoELLANDALE.

 

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