Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl/Descent into the Depths of the Earth - Part 5







Ahrn Lockyer, Conjuror and Warlock of House Ynris sat atop his giant snow spider; beneath the lighted world he rode, a silver and red regent of this underdark kingdom.


The cephalothorax of the snow spider was too wide for the rider to straddle, so there was an elevated saddle on top of it, which ended before the eyes. The back of the saddle sat in front of the bulging abdomen, it could be set directly up or a wooden rod could be removed and the seat would lean back against the abdomen. There was ample storage room around the saddle, and Ahrn had taken his sleeping furs and collected them around him, making the saddle even more comfortable.


As a conjuror Ahrn was used to summoning up loathsome and repulsive things to do his bidding, so very little threw him off, but he had some instinctual reluctance to use the giant spider at first, even one custom bred through magic. Now, however, after hours in the saddle, he realized that the giant snow spider was an ideal mount. They rode smoothly and silently, allowing him to read as they rode, as long as he tethered the spider to the next one up in the marching order.



In addition to riding “dark”, Morgul had insisted that the party ride “silent” unless warning others of impending doom, so conversation was normally frowned upon. However, in well-lit areas where visibility was good and both Wend and the conjuror’s shadows reported the way forward clear, Morgul would clap twice loudly and the next pair back in the order (in this case Lenides and Wend) would clap as well, passing the message down the line.



Of course it was better to ride silently all of the time, but Morgul, a seasoned campaign veteran and an astute observer of human foibles (he was a justiciar after all, who better to know the weaknesses of man?), was aware that humans needed conversation as much as air to breathe. Allowing them to communicate periodically helped take off the edge of being in this abyssal place… quiet riders could build up the darkness into any number of perceived threats.



This stretch of the main cavern was much brighter and open than previous areas. There were large patches of luminescent moss on the floors, emitting a greenish glow that was reflected by a massive number of crystals in the walls, each exposed facet caught some of the verdant light and reflected it back, making the cavern radiate a low level glow. There were no tall plants or rocks to block their view, the ground was like tundra, rock and water and lichens, flat in all directions, so for the first time in days the party could see around them clearly enough to know what was there.



The paladin breathed out, they had a respite, good visibility and an open space. He let his hand drop down to one of his javelin’s of lightning, comfortable it was easily retrieved, then he gave the clap signal, and conversation began to flow.



Gint turned towards Morgul as they rode side by side, “Wend is ahead, transformed into an owl so he can see in this darkness, does that bother you?”



Morgul grunted, his normal response when he had no immediate answer. Ever since being brought back from the dead the barbarian was full of questions for everyone. Morgul wondered silently if they were questions he always had and now felt he should ask, having engaged with his mortality, or if they were questions gained from a new perspective.



Either way his answer was silence.



“I know your god’s avatar is an owl, a symbol of wisdom, does it not bother you when Wend takes that form?”



Morgul did not generally debate theology with his fellow adventurers, he knew that his faith was unique to him in the group, there was only one other member of the party who even worshipped a god from his pantheon, Essern was a worshipper of Poseidon. He and the phantasmist had prayed together before, and they both loved the ocean, but other than that Morgul was alone in his faith.



Morgul responded dryly, “Jaggenoth worships a god of death, does he not?”



Gint nodded in assent.



“Well then, I wonder if your dying bothered him?”



The barbarian snickered.


Morgul took a swig from a waterskin and concentrated for a moment, sensing for the presence of evil, and found nothing. Not that there weren’t threats that were not evil by nature, but it reassured him to check anyway.



The paladin continued, “Is the worshipper of Apollo bothered when I wear a hat to ward off the sun? Does the worshiper of Zeus cry in disgust when I hide from the lightning? What nonsense are you asking Longtusk? The druid honors Athena with that form, Athena chose the owl, taking the form of the owl, particularly for its special abilities, is reverential.”




The barbarian snickered again, “Hmmmmmm, I will chew on your words Morgul.”



Morgul scanned ahead, he could see about 50’ ahead fairly well, then things dropped off to darkness after that.


Lenides walked behind the barbarian and the paladin, he had overheard their conversation and decided to avoid it. The barbarian was respectful to the wemic, after all, Gint’s tribe had met wemics before, and befriended tribes of them on the steppes as well. Still, he had a baseline unease with warlocks, and Lenides was not just ANY warlock, he had four paws and a tail, so there was that.


The wemic fingered sand in a component pouch as he walked.



Zintar was riding beside Shoon, and Shoon’s familiar was walking beside the warlock. The beast was as tall as a horse and its beak was five times the size of a regular vulture’s beak, and much more hooked.



“I have been meaning to ask”, Zintar spoke, “how ever did you get that thing as a familiar?”


Shoon looked at Zintar and smiled, a genuine, warm smile, Shoon was a naturally friendly person, and bore no animosity towards anyone he worked with, his intellect did not allow him the luxury of petty jealousies.


“How did you end up… like that?”, the warlock pointed towards Zintar.


“You first.”


Shoon had the reins of the giant spider loosely wrapped around his right wrist, he found that his spider followed the one in front more or less flawlessly, at a distance of about 10 feet, with no prompting from the warlock. With his two hands he flipped a piece of tortoise shell back and forth as they rode.


He cleared his throat, “Rojintaa the Redeemed took me on as an apprentice at House Ynris when I arrived in the city, she saw potential in me. Rojintaa was well known for three things: her mastery of transporting magic, her mastery of protective circles and barriers, and her constant thirst for knowledge of other worlds and creatures.”


Shoon held the shell in one hand while checking his pouch full of webs.



“When I had just become a thaumaturgist Rojintaa requested that I accompany her on a trip to another world. She claimed she wanted me as I didn’t have a ‘short fuse’ and most of her current apprentices were likely to do something that would flummox her. She had been there before and had an alliance with a warlock there, so it would be a fairly safe trip, once we arrived. So I asked where we were going, it was to some distant world where sorcerer kings had ruled, but were now fallen. I asked here for all the lore she knew of on this place, I spent several weeks reading all she had, and we had several long discussions.”



There were no large plants or obstructions to view here, Zintar could see, with his infravision, all around him. He scanned the way forward as he listened to Shoon. Zintar whispered as they rode, “Ez az ajtó” then he would pause and add ”egy másik helyre”, over and over again.



Shoon continued, “Finally, I performed a service for a blacksmith in Bhavisyavani, his son was lost and with some judicious inquiry, magic and luck I found him, in return he made me a special brass brazier, ornate and carved with intricate symbols I showed him, and he imbedded in this brazier four large diamonds I gave him. Those diamonds represented almost all of my loot from several years. I took along the special brazier, and some equally rare plants I obtained from a colleague, and I cast a spell to summon a familiar using these tools, while we were there on this other world. Rojintaa was supportive of the exercise, she wanted to see what would happen. I cast the spell, in the presence of Xintal Uneara, Caln Mhos of the Melnibonian Tribunal no less, and Gilak appeared, quite dramatically while giving chase to a strange buffalo like creature he had been hunting. He tore off from the hunt and bowed at my feet.”


Zintar laughed, “A friend of mine got a weasel, I’ve been tempted to eat it a few times.”



“The Caln Mhos was impressed, claimed he had never heard of one answering a familiar’s call, I know it impressed Rojintaa, she has continued in her role as my Master, and advocated for my station with Moonsal when I met the Star Knight.”



Zintar liked the beast, it was fierce, fast and efficient.



“It is a liability, yes? If it dies, the shock can kill you?”, Zintar added.


Shoon nodded and held out his hand and the beast came over immediately, as far as Zintar could tell it didn’t even look towards the warlock’s outstretched hand, it was just immediately there. Shoon stroked the beast’s beak gently, his hands caressing the two small holes near the top, feeling the rush of air past them. The hunting dog let out a whine, for a second, Zintar thought of an old hound lounging in the sun, and Gilak then cawed like a vulture, the sound echoing around the cave.


Morgul’s head snapped around and he looked at the familiar. A smile split his face, and he blinked at it. Morgul always checked, but he liked the familiar to occasionally make these noises, hopefully leading anyone listening to think that the party was a group of animals, not outworlders.



Zintar cracked his neck, “You’ll die together.”



Shoon nodded, “Your turn.”



Zintar looked behind him, Jaggenoth and Brother Naranjir were paired next and were having an animated discussion. Not terribly surprising, Zintar thought, but he was pleased to see that each man, while talking, would periodically look around, and they would both stop occasionally to listen.



Zintar spoke, “I was with Lenides, when he walked on two feet, and Ahrn, we had a common master for several years, who died after a bad summoning. We split his spells up and left together. While we were in the Caliphate I left one evening and tried to break into a wizard’s tower, I had a score to settle. This cuttle-cod of a wizard, Tiell Mon the Sabe, had beaten me a while ago in a duel, I only lived as a charmed monster of mine kept him busy long enough for me to flee. I found him in his new city, and in an attempt to enact my revenge I triggered a trap on a lizard statue that put a curse on me.”



Shoon smiled, “Unfortunate.”



“Yes”, Zintar laughed, “not due to the transformation, I’ve come to embrace that, though I’ll never look at mice the same way again”. The lizard man spoke in a whisper, “Don’t tell the conjuror, but when he sounds the pipes I get hungry, mice, rats, I get cravings.”


Shoon laughed.



“No, I hated losing to the man, when I was transformed I temporarily lost my spell casting ability, Tiell Mon mocked me for that. Ahrn and Lendies came for me, freed me and we left for Barrier Peaks, but I hated that he had beaten me.”


“You found a good home in Bhavisyavani, there you are normal”, Shoon offered.



Zintar smiled, “I’m not normal anywhere warlock, except in this party.”




“How did you get your spell casting ability back, breaking the curse?”



Zintar arched an eyebrow, “The curse is not lifted, I wasn’t born this green, but Horan helped me to get it back, it was a block in my mind, he helped me to past the block.”



Shoon had heard the gist of their experiences with Horan, and had seen him die in the arena, so this was somewhat shocking to him.



Jaggenoth was animated, “First manifestations only, Ganesh, or Vishnu?”



Brother Naranjir looked like he had swallowed a fly, “I reject the question.”



“Come now Brother, the Maharaja trained you better than that, the best you can do is give up?”



“He wasn’t the maharaja when I joined the order, and the question is malformed.”



“It is part of life! There is structure to the world, there are those above and those below, and those who move between them, that has always been the way. It’s Ganesh, Ganesh is beginning, even if Vishnu is life, sustaining creation. The one before the many, it can only be so, you have no other perspective.”



Brother Naranjir shook his head, “Yes, you reject your self, and your inward turning eye, and you look to the primary forces of creation, they must have created you, so they predate you, if you believed in beginnings then what could be more of a beginning than that?”



Jaggenoth was an perspectivist, Naranjir was a formalist, products of the temple and the monastery, they disagreed about many metaphysical matters. But the rest of the party, save perhaps Ahrn and Essern, were grateful that the priest and the monk talked to each other about these matters.



Ahrn sat atop his spider, which he had affectionately named “raajakumaaree”, and read aloud the message that Shoon’s legend lore spell had given them to Essern, who was riding beside him.


“Past the watching eyes,
If you're clever, without a fight
Past the horrors in the dark,
Who destroy your mind's pure light

You're not there yet, but don't hurry,
Past the soldiers, claw and beak,
No respite, but still, no worry,
Cross the water for what you seek.

Then go east, from the main road,
And keep going by and by,
Your first cave will be filled with grass,
That's as tall as a man is high.”


Ahrn stopped.


“Well, the ‘watching eyes’ would be the drow checkpoint, that matches what we see on the map that the Jarl gave us.”


Essern had the map spread open in front of him, and he nodded silently. The map was weighted on either side with a small coin pouch, Essern was working on a small piece of blue stone with his knife, detailing the beard on the carving of a frost giant.


“The horrors in the dark, that must be the illithids, their power would destroy your mind, that seems clear. And the map clearly indicates eyes at the first point and what looks like tentacles at the next, that would suit the flayers.”


Essern nodded again, “Who were the soldiers then?”



Ahrn was less certain of this, and the uncertainty carried into his voice, Essern could hear it as easily as he heard the words being spoken. People who spoke a lot gave away more than they realized to an attentive phantasmist.


“We did pass by a large number of trolls and other creatures, under command of the drow, they are close to being soldiers, would they not be?”



From in front of them Brother Naranjir interjected, “That is a stretch, trolls aren’t soldiers, they are more like trained dogs.”


Ahrn shook his head, “No, to the drow trolls would be footsoldiers, just like the bugbears, they likely see almost all other races as inferior. I’ve met day elves that think as much, so the drow would be so tenfold over, would they not? I think that the “beak and claw” was the caves we passed through.”


There was silence, and eventually everyone agreed.



“Crossing the water must have been that river”, Shoon added.


“Which means we need to go east from here”, Zintar added.


“When?”, Shoon asked, “do we go east at the first side passage we find? Do we wait for a large branch in the tunnel? The spell’s message is not clear on this.”



Jaggenoth held up his hand with the ring of wishes on it, “We have another option”.



Ahrn shook his head vigorously, “Out of the question, we have two wishes left, I’m sure we’ll need them for something else, we can figure this out for ourselves.”



Jaggenoth smiled.



Ahrn spoke again, “I say we take the first passageway that branches east and follow it, if there was another marker to look for after crossing the river we would have been told about it by the spell.”



Essern jumped in, “But aren’t spells like that a bit ambiguous, they don’t tell you anything exact, no?”



Ahrn nodded reluctantly, “Actually, you are right, the spells are not meant to be that detailed, so I don’t know if the first branch is the best choice, but I have no other way to parse this, so unless any of you see anything in the passage that would suggest otherwise, its first branch we come to.”



Everyone assented, and within 10 minutes the main passageway had a branch that pulled to the east, leading to a very large secondary tunnel, they took a moment to survey the branch and they determined the secondary tunnel was about 500 feet in width, not small, but much smaller than the main tunnel that swelled out to about a half mile across in some places.



There were periodic phosphorescent lichens and some glowing, flying insects, but the darkness here was more complete.



Also of note, the river they had crossed had doubled back and was paralleling the tunnel they were exploring, periodically the tunnel wall would drop and expose the river rushing alongside, then the tunnel would branch away and the river would disappear, only to reappear again slightly further down.



They switched up the marching order, placing Lenides in the front with Gint, Morgul directly behind them, to take advantage of his infravision. Ahrn sent one of his shadows ahead to scout, it would sweep forward and report back periodically. The other he kept beside him, it stood on the giant spider’s abdomen, ready to flatten across its body to the ground and reappear in front of any threats.


Wend took on the form of an owl and flew forward several hundred feet, eyes sharp for any threats to the party.


And it didn’t take long for one to appear, here along the river they were particularly blind, Lenides could see forward about 60 feet or so, so it was up to the two scouts, Wend and the shadow. The next group to appear down the tunnel was announced to Wend by the sound of shuffling, then gnashing and wailing, drooling, Wend heard the sound, then saw on the horizon of his vision a shambling mass of humanoid creatures, they squealed and hissed as they saw the party in the distance. Clearly they were used to moving through the dark.


Wend flew back as fast as he could, and he easily made the party before the creatures had closed.



He landed on his giant spider and transformed.



“A pack of ghouls I think, faster than zombies, and there were some larger ones, maybe ghasts?”



Morgul took out Helvete and activated the sword, blue flames licked down the length of the blade, hungry for blood.


He charged forward on Vacanga at full speed, Jaggenoth moved to the front of the party in case Morgul was unsuccessful with the undead, the priest of Rudra was the next line of defense. Given that undead were particularly deadly, Morgul had devised this protocol for encountering them. It was risky, but it minimized risk to the party.



The justiciar charged forward singing a battle song, Morgul learned mounted charge and combat while serving as cavalry, his unit would travel miles through the mountains to deal with humanoid incursions and military actions along long borders.


That much time on your hands, you sing. He knew a hundred songs and a hundred more, and even knew a few in different languages. Morgul had a deep, resonant voice that could also sustain high notes, and even low whispers of song. He often sang low as he rode, and sang loud when fighting. Sometimes to throw off his opponents, sometimes to inspire his fighting.


As he charged he carried his shield on his left arm and he rapped the edge of it with the flat of his blade to keep the beat, one two three, one two three, one two three four five…


“Bridles down along the ground, from death to death I ride,
A hundred bodies strewn behind, a thousand to my side.
I cannot stop, or turn around, or take the hindmost place.
Death’s behind me snapping close, to take me on this race.

Bar my way, and taste my sword,
Your charge will meet my blade,
Cleft your head, from your neck,
A ragged breach I’ve made.

Fire and fury, bone and blood,
My sword will be behind it.
Death’s my welcome to this place,
Come and you will find it!


Shoon knew this song, he heard it from the drilling grounds which were outside his lodgings in Moonsal’s tower many times, and he sang along as the paladin charged the undead. As did Jaggenoth, who loved to sing as much as the paladin.


And they both, of course, sang of death.


Morgul rode hard until he saw the ghouls and ghasts, their foul stench was not yet upon him, but he anticipated it as he pulled back on Vacanga’s reins. The giant lizard reared up, it’s mighty feet clawing the air, and the paladin held out Helvete, it’s blue flame lit up half of his face with an unearthly glow in the pitch black of the tunnel, making him look like some half-formed manifestation of a forgotten god.


He shouted out to the beasts as their reek began to hang in the air.


“To dóry tis Athinás trypáei tin kardiá sou, i dýnamí tis sou odigeí!”


There were 8 ghouls in the pack, each one began to stagger, then their fetid bodies began to smoke, and whisps of a bright orange flame began to appear on their skins.


The beasts hissed and yowled… and exploded into flames, reducing them to ash.


The ghasts slowed to a halt, then screamed, an unholy, unnerving sound that caused mice and some small rabbits to scuttle away as fast as they could run. Then the ghasts turned in terror and fled as fast as they could run.


Morgul continued to hold out his sword and prayed to Athena.


The party regrouped and continued on for just under an hour when the river had disappeared from view for a time and they came upon a cavern that directly blocked this tunnel they had been following. The mouth of the cavern was about 200 feet across, but the inside opened up considerably, stretching out almost a mile across.


Lighting the cavern were a number of large balls of light, suspended in the air at various intervals over the cave, they all emanated a rusty, dark orange light that washed over everything in the cave, the only analogue the party had for this thick pall was the end of sunset, when the sun was slung low, scraping the ground of the horizon, bathing everything in liquid orange gold. It gave the whole room the appearance of being at the very dying edge of sunset in some hot, thick desert place, the heat waves rippling through the air.


It was however not hot, though it was warm, and the sphere’s orange light illuminated all the space for a great distance, allowing the adventurers to see more of the interior.


The inside of the cave was filled with a maze of islands joined by land bridges, these snaked along across the entire cavern, some crossed, some paralleled, some lead to dead ends, others continued through. Around the islands was a dark blue water, and atop each of the portions of land was grass, as tall as a man, black with crimson trim around the edges. The orange light made the crimson trim of the leaves appear to waver when looked at closely, it made the rich ebony of the grass lustrous, and the deep sapphire of the water almost black by contrast.


The entire cave was filled with the grass, stretching across its full width and length. There was a breeze through the cavern that pulled from behind the party and inwards, it tilted the grass away from the entrance, ever so slightly, then back again, and periodically caused it to shudder like a giant hand had caressed it.


There were buzzing green and yellow mottled insects, four winged blood red mites and a long articulated yellow creature with a pair of gasbags that floated through the air, periodically spraying passing insects then ingesting them.



Essern blinked and looked again, he could have sworn he saw a tiny man standing on one of the gasbag bugs, but then it swarmed away into the blood orange sky and was lost to his eye.



Gint looked at the water, reached into a side pouch on his giant spider and took out a small bat, which he had collected for his mount. He threw on to the ground near the water, and within seconds crabs the size of small foxes appeared and tore it to pieces, devouring the creature in a few heartbeats.


“Out of the water everyone, only on the land, eh?



Ahrn rode up beside Morgul, the paladin spoke first, “Do you think this is like a maze, and there is a way through? Or is this natural, and there may not be a way through?”


Ahrn liked Morgul for many reasons, but at the top of the list was his forthrightness, the paladin asked exactly what he was thinking, and it was always a tactical assessment of some kind.


“It depends, if it’s inhabited and used then there is likely a path, natural or otherwise, if it is uninhabited that’s another matter. We have the ability to fly, individually and collectively, but it leaves us exposed, though at least here we won’t be blind.”



“I’m finding it hard to resolve things at a distance in this light”, Zintar said.


“It makes things sharper for me”, said Carver.


Essern simply drank it all in.



Morgul looked up, “I can use my boots to get to the ceiling, then move along and drop down again, I can look at the ground from the air and direct you where to go. The “islands” look large enough for our spider mounts, to avoid being in the water. Slow but safer.”


Ahrn nodded, “Just so, it could take a long time, as you may have switchbacks, so the fly spell will run out, levitation is more enduring when from your boots.”



Morgul looked at the conjuror, “Could they run out and stop working when I’m in the air?”



Ahrn shrugged.


Morgul smiled, “I suppose I’ll find out”.



Morgul spoke the command words for the boots softly, “fel, fel majd el” and he began to rise into the air, at approximately 500 feet up he came to the ceiling, and pulled himself along there fairly quickly until he was about 200 feet from the party, then he descended. From his vantage point he saw a path forward for the party and called it out to them.


They moved forward this way slowly but without incident, for a half hour.


Morgul was on the ceiling for the third time, this far up he lost sight of the party in the weird orange light, the details blurring at that distance, but when he dropped down to 200 feet or so he spotted them again, they were single file and moving slowly, bending back black grass that sprung back after they passed, leaving little evidence of their passage.



Then he saw it, a snake, perhaps 50 feet long, dark green and mottled brown, with dull yellow eyes. The creature travelled by curling up half it’s length then springing forward, hurtling through the air just off the ground, covering 50 feet or more at a time. The snake was shooting towards Essern,



Morgul screamed, “Essern, on the right flank, INCOMING!”


The phantasmist sucked in a breath and took a handful of multi-colored sand into his hand. He rode his giant spider out of the marching order across a land bridge to a small island, just to the right of the party.


He then looked in the direction Morgul indicated, and took out his gladius into his other hand.



The snake exploded from the grass, orange light bathing its length, and it shot past Essern’s head just a few feet off, passing in front of Ahrn and crashing into an island. There was a hissing and the thing’s head turned towards Ahrn, its body coiling to lunge again.


Essern screamed, ”prism” and clutched his handful of multi-colored sand, he spoke the words, “sechny barvy nyni” and a fissure of color tore open the deep orange air, bathing it in indigo, red, yellow, green and blue, and dazzling the snake to the point of unconsciousness, its brain overloaded on pure color, its eyes throbbed and pulsed.


Essern sprang off his giant spider and landed on the back of the snake behind its head and he plunged his gladius into the creature’s brain, killing it instantly.



Zintar was talking to himself, “If he dies I want the cloak.”




Morgul shouted, “Carver and Folix, on your flanks!”



The orange light made it hard to see the snakes.



The two fighters immediately turned their spiders around and rode away from the marching order, if the snakes attacked them they would not land near other targets, Morgul’s warning led them to disperse.



Two more snakes, 40 and 30 feet long respectively, came flying through the grass at the men.



The two were warned, however, and ready for the attack.



Folix stood on the saddle of his snow spider, looking to the side, and when the snake sprung towards him he sprung upwards and over it’s head, landing on it’s back with an axe in each of his hands, The ranger struck with both of the axes into the snake’s back, it replied with a gurgle and hiss as it crashed to the ground and skidded off until it’s head was in the water.


A half dozen giant crabs swarmed out of the water and started trying to eat the snake.



Carver dismounted and slapped his giant spider, causing the beast to scuttle away.



The snake sprang at the fighter and Carver held his ground as long as he thought he could, then he sprang to the side, letting the snake barely pass him and land on an island. The beast’s head rose into the air, and Carver took three strides and leapt through the air, grabbing the snake around it’s neck from the top.


Then he squeezed, the snake’s head, about 10 feet in the air at this point, started to swing wildly around as it hissed.



Gint moved between Ahrn and the incoming snakes.



Folix’s snake turned its head around, sending crabs flying, to attack the ranger who was further back and hacking the beast with a pair of axes. The snake’s head shot at Folix and smashed into him just as the ranger turned to respond to the sound of rushing air.



Folix was thrown to the ground and landed on his back, dropping one of his axes.



The snake’s head raised into the air and it pulled back to strike like a cobra.



Jaggenoth had stood up in his saddle and taken out his bow when Morgul had shouted his warning. Two arrows from Jaggenoth’s bow stung the snake, one on the back, the other on the head.



The creature hissed and it’s head bobbed up and down several times, then spun around towards the priest.



Folix regained his feet with the distraction and took out his sword, with an axe in the other hand he took two steps and swung the axe side hand, and the sword thrust forward to impale the thing.


Both bit into the snake’s leathery skin.


The snake spun around again and shot down at Folix, clipping his arm and spinning him around.



Jaggenoth shot two more arrows, the first he directed at the area Folix had wounded, which got the creature’s attention, with a sickening hiss it spun around again and coiled back to spring at Jaggenoth, but his second arrow was already in the air and speared the beast through the eye, slaying it.


Folix shouted at Jaggenoth, “I forgot you were so good with that bow, you have my thanks priest.”



Jaggenoth nocked another arrow and looked around, he considered shooting but saw Brother Naranjir running in, so he paused.



Carver squeezed hard, the snake whipped him back and forth, and smashed into an island, after which crabs swarmed the two of them.



Brother Naranjir ran forward with his Lucerne hammer, he turned the spike down and brought it down in a sky to ground blow that hit Carver’s snake hard, tearing a bloody hole in it’s back.



Carver pulled hard and the snake gurgled and died.



Morgul had a javelin of lightning his hand, unused. He had considered helping each group but held back, now he saw three more snakes on the way from the front, three from the back.


Morgul shouted, “Three from the front and three from the back, LOOK ALIVE!”



Carver began tearing crabs off his person and throwing them.



Wend had a piece of mistletoe in his hands when the first snakes appeared, he heard Morgul’s warning and closed his eyes, he envisioned a calm lake, a still forest, a dusty plain, Wend was between the beats of the hummingbird’s wings... and his mind cleared. He opened his eyes and spoke the words, “ymosodwch y gwyrdd”.


The six foot crimson and ebony Rholis grass came alive and embraced three approaching snakes, two were held fast, one moved slowly forward.

Morgul let fly with a javelin of lightning at one of the snakes, it transformed into a ragged bolt of blue lightning that burned a hole in the snake, killing it outright.



Lenides sprang forward and landed on another of the snakes, the one moving forward, digging his claws into the thing.


Zintar pulled four magic missiles out of his forehead and sent them flying into the snake that Lenides had attacked, Zintar used magic missile as a precision strike spell when others were in the area. Each missile led to a shudder of pain in the snake.



Shoon took aim with three darts and shot at the third snake, bound by grasses it was an easy target, and all three hit.


At the rear of the party three snakes exploded from the grasses.



The first flew through the air at Carver, now bereft of crabs, he swung his battle axe at the thing as it shot towards him, the blade biting into the snake’s head as it smashed into the fighter, knocking him back on the ground.



The second was met with Ahrn’s shadows, the conjuror had sent them to the grass and they shot along the ground then emerged in humanoid form and lunged at the second snake before it shot out of the grass, it reared its head and tried shaking off the two shadowy attackers.



Brother Naranjir stopped and took out a pair of statues, two golden lions, and spoke the word, “Asada”, and the two statues shimmered, disappeared and in their place stood two full sized lions.


The third snake burst forward and shot towards Folix, but the ranger dove out of the way just in time.


The two lions then launched themselves at the snake, tearing into it with savage claws.


Jaggenoth sunk two arrows into the snake battling Carver, and it thrashed in pain.


Lenides finished off his snake with talons.


Gint sliced open the snake Shoon wounded, killing it.


Morgul shouted from the air, “Kraken!”



Ahrn, upon hearing this, took out a small, rubbery piece of flesh from his component pouch.


Carver’s snake bit the fighter in a last ditch attempt to finish him off, the wound was bloody but not decisive, and Carver killed the snake with another axe blow.


The snake with the shadows was unable to harm the creatures, and they struck blows again, followed by a strike from Brother Naranjir’s hammer, which slayed the beast.


His golden lions were locked in battle with their snake, tearing at it wildly, the snake did manage a bite on one of the lions, tearing him off and flinging him through the air.


Ahrn held the rubbery flesh in one hand, he held his other hand palm up with fingers pointing up. He slowly lifted that empty hand while whispering the words, “fekete csápok emelkednek”, then saying them louder, then louder, then shouting them one last time.


At the last shout he brought his hand back down and as he lifted it up, fingers pointing to the air, black, rubbery tentacles rose out of the water between the islands in a circle around the party.


Then they began to wrap around approaching snakes.



Wend cast entangle again, binding others that were missed by the tentacles.



Morgul shouted, “Arrows!”



Carver and Folix picked giant snake targets that were struggling with tentacles or bound by the grasses, taking out their bows.


Gint and Jaggenoth took out bows and targeted two snakes that were neither entangled nor in the grip of a black tentacle.


Shoon and Wend did the same with darts and slings and picked bound targets.


Missiles flew, and one of the free snakes was additionally targeted by magic missiles from Lenides, shaking the beast to its core.



Then Morgul looked up from the battle and saw a fantastic sight, as the snakes wrestled with ebony tentacles and hungry grass.



In the distance he saw two purple worms, both were majestically large, and they were travelling together. Between them rode a woman on a large spider like apparatus, it looked just like an eight legged spider, but it was made of twisted vines and branches; it held her 20 feet above the ground and moved along across the islands.



The woman stood on a 10 foot radius platform at the top of the eight legged plants, there were three giant spiders on the platform with her. She was dressed in what appeared to be leather taken from the large snakes, it was similarly mottled. A pair of fangs from one of the 60 foot long snakes criss crossed her chest, and she wore the skull of a smaller of the giant snakes on her head, two large fangs from this framing her face.



She had a cloak made of the black and crimson Rholis grass woven together, it flowed back from her a good twenty feet, over the edge of the platform and down towards the ground.



Flying around her on giant bees were 6 humans and one thri-kreen, all were armed and all were female.



Then there were about 20 thri-kreen standing on various islands but in missile range of the party, all armed with bows. They had been invisible in the grass, and were now bathed in the orange light.



Morgul looked at the woman through the waves of rippling orange.



She was approximately 50 feet from the party and she whistled a series of notes, leading the free snakes to stop and begin to turn back.



The woman then spoke in an oddly tinged common tongue.



“Cease.”



Morgul was unsure what to do, if she was hostile they would be giving up an advantage, but she seemed to be able to command the snakes, and there was no telling how many of those there were.



Morgul shouted to Ahrn, “Conjuror, cease!”



Ahrn closed his empty hand into a fist, and the tentacles withdrew.



Wend dispelled his entangle.



All of the snakes slithered away.



Morgul hovered in the air, bathed in ruddy orange, looking the woman more or less in the eyes, elevated on her platform.



She addressed the group, “I am the high priestess Zvalas, who speaks for you?”



******************************************************************************


“I, Morgul Ironarm of House Ynris”, Morgul’s voice was even and cool, there was no hint of aggression, but there was also no suggestion of weakness. It was one of Morgul’s talents that he could sound authoritative and calm at the same time.


"I speak for the party."


High Priestess Zvalas looked over Morgul from top to bottom as he hovered in the air in front of her. She smiled for a moment then her visage went back to something that the paladin could not read. While she looked him over Morgul concentrated silently and detected for evil on the whole group, none of the humanoids registered as evil.


Morgul felt a little relief.



“Morgul Ironarm of House Ynris, welcome to the Sea of Ebon Grass, my home, and the home of my disciples.”


“Our thanks for your welcome, and for calling off the snakes.”


“You would have killed many of them, would you not?”


Morgul rarely lied, he found that truth tended to produce better results, despite the occasional misstep.


“Yes, we avoid killing when we can, but those snakes were not letting us by alive, have we offended you?”


The priestess smiled wanly for a moment, “No, these snakes, we call them Saan, are not held in some glass bowl to be watched, they are living things, all living things die. If not by your hand, sometimes a worm eats one, sometimes my archers hunt them for leather and meat and bones, sometimes a drow patrol will wander in and be assailed.”


Morgul bowed his head, “Thank you High Priestess.”


The priestess waved back the giant spiders on the platform, two scuttled off and one moved back behind her. She then sat down on the platform and it walked forward until it was just under the paladin, and she exhorted Morgul to be seated in front of her.



Morgul lowered himself to the platform and sat cross legged in front of the priestess.


She waved her hand and one of the humans on the giant bees came down and handed her a pouch, a bowl and a bag. She then took out the bowl, emptied the contents of the bag into it, and then took out flint and steel from the pouch.



She sparked the plant matter with the flint and steel and in a few seconds she had a small curling fire, then it grew to cover all of the leaves, twigs and mosses in the bowl, and a pungent, slightly sweet smell rose into the air while a greyish cloud, streaked orange from the light, enveloped both the paladin and the priestess.



Morgul felt lightheaded and tried to focus on something, he chose a vision of an owl flying out of the trees to follow him through a field, he had that dream years ago when he decided to become a justiciar, and it’s details were imprinted on his brain as if seared into his skin with an iron. Morgul felt the surface of the platform become distant, almost ephermeral on his legs as he sat with them crossed. Then his skin became cold, not clammy, just cold, and then, as if a breeze had blown over him, he was warm everywhere, and then he felt his body little if at all.



He was inside his head.



Morgul sat on a beach near a small lake, there were trees everywhere, the sun was shining, and it felt like spring or early summer. The water was lapping just shy of his feet.



His shield and sword were too the side in the sand, his sandals were on his shield. Vacanga was tied to a tree and lying in the shade.



There was a woman sitting in the water of the lake, just enough to be wet, and she wore white robes and had a wooden owl mask on.



“You are troubled.”



Morgul nodded, the lakewater smelled fresh, wet, he could see the fish darting, the minnows, the dragonflies on the water’s surface, the glint of the sun on the water.



He heard birdsong.




“I can’t talk about it with you, can I?”, Morgul felt a bit muddled.



“Anything you share here stays here, no one else can see or hear us at the lake… do you recognize the lake?”



Morgul looked around, he did recognize it, but he could not pin down a location in his memory.



“It’s alright, you haven’t been there yet, but you will recognize it when you are there.”



Morgul was confused.



“Would you feel better with your weapons and shield?”



The paladin found the idea pleasing, and he put on his sandals, then his shield and sword, and he stood, looking at the woman.



“One day you will find yourself at the lake, and you will wander the hills and valleys of the lake, you will be beset by beasts that you will slay for food and clothing, but most of your time will be spent in the woods and water, swimming, watching the sky, listening to the birds.”



Morgul thought it sounded wonderful.



“You will have to be dead of course, but all beings die.”



Morgul felt the truth of this with his soul.



“Did you want to die now, to go and live in the hereafter, to hunt, to swim, to live for each moment under glorious sunshine?”



Morgul did indeed want that, but… not now, he wanted now to keep going.



“I want to live.”



Morgul knew that she was grinning behind the mask, it covered her face but not her visage, at least not wherever they were, here he saw what his eyes were unable to see.



“Why are you in the Sea of Ebon Grass?”



Morgul smiled at an easy question, one that made sense, “we seek a fallen star.”



The mask quivered.



“Others have sought it before, none have returned. You can pass through here, if you do no harm to anything you can pass unmolested.”



Morgul nodded, this was good news.




“But what of the snakes, the saan, they will attack us.”




The mask shook back and forth.




“That is all we want, we want to go through to find the fallen star”, Morgul was certain this is what he wanted, though he was not sure why exactly they wanted it. It was a distant idea for him now though.



The woman in the mask sat still, and Morgul saw that his left arm was now a gnarled and weathered tree limb, ending in branches for fingers. The sight produced an immediate revulsion in him he had to suppress.



“You have a worry, something occupies your mind, you fear violence.”



Morgul nodded, “We are ahead of an opponent who wants the same thing, I fear he will overtake us, and that we are not able to defeat him. He has allies, and much power.”



Now Morgul found he could only see the mask, though the lake, the trees, everything was there, just the woman, she was now only her mask. And the mouth of the mask now moved when she spoke.



“Will he harm us?”



Morgul felt buoyant, “No, if you let him pass he will simply continue on, only if you deter him would he likely attack. I cannot say this for certain, but his primary goal is speed, he would not stop and engage where he need not.”



The mask was now gone, and the woman was back, but she now stood in the water, her white robes shifting in the breeze, and she had the head of an owl, not a mask.



“Your mind”, she said, “is like a puzzle box, it only unlocks when you see the way forward, I will unlock your puzzle box for you Morgul Ironarm, pass through this place.”



The woman walked out of the lake and touched Morgul’s forehead with her finger.



And Morgul started, waking amidst the wispy remaining clouds of smoke from the bowl.



He was cross legged on the platform as before.



The priestess spoke, “Pass through here, one of my men will guide you to speed you up, I will send scouts into the tunnel to locate your Star Knight and we will withdraw before he passes. Would you have me delay him, harass him, as he went through?”



Morgul shook his head, “No, letting us through is enough, I fear that he would damage much here, which would be a shame, this place, here, where it is, is a miracle.”



The priestess nodded, she had planned on rescinding her offer had Morgul had asked for her help against his foe, his answer cemented her decision to allow them to pass.



The party was directed to mount the purple worms on their giant spiders, and the worms moved across the islands and through the water across with ease, with a pair of thri-kreen guides to their sides, and they made it across the cave in about a half hour.



The tunnel, smaller than the main passage, once again opened up on the sides to the river, they could hear it rushing along to their side. This new passage was very dark, only small passing swarms of fire beetles and clusters of what appeared to be glowing yellow butterflies provided spikes in illumination that revealed a landscape of boulders, moss, small bushes of purple fronds and tall green plants with six petaled crimson flowers.



When they passed the crimson flowers the sounds they made were passed along from flower to flower, echoing through the tunnel ahead.



So much for surprise, Morgul thought.



Zintar was up front with Morgul, using his infravision to check the way forward, Ahrn’s shadows were scouting ahead, and Wend was back with the party, in human form, sleeping at the moment as he was scouting for hours and was exhausted. His spider was tethered to Gint’s spider in front of him.



Vacanga’s nostrils began to quiver as they rode forward, Morgul noticed it and slowed down somewhat, “Conjuror, call back your shadows, Vacanga has picked up something.”


Ahrn summoned the shadows back to him, they slid across the floor of the cavern to his side, pulling up into three dimensions to stand in front of him on his giant spider.


“What have you seen?”, Ahrn asked.



“A chasm, a chasm with pillars, very wide, very wide, a chasm in the darkness, it is the only way to pass, a chasm.”


Their voices were a whisper, and they spoke in sibilant tones.



“Are there creatures in the chasm?”, Ahrn asked.



“We did not see the bottom of the chasm, we did not see it, not at all, nothing, nothing appeared to stop us.”



Morgul mused for a moment then nodded.



“Forward.”


And the party continued forward, soon they had come upon a large opening that led to a huge cave. There was a ledge that led to a gigantic chasm, it stretched to either side until it disappeared from view, and they could not see the other side either.



However, there were large stone columns, each covered with overspilling vegetation, that appeared across the length of the gap. It was clearly possible to rappel across as there were plenty of plants to grab with a grappling hook. It was not possible to see if there were enough columns to get you entirely across, but there were many of them, all close enough to connect.



Gint walked over to the edge and lit a torch and threw it down into the darkness. It careened top over bottom, pinwheeling along through the darkness until it disappeared from view.



If it hit, it made no sound.



“We can fly”, Lenides offered, “like before, we cast the spell on Vacanga and he ferries us across in groups.”



Morgul looked wary but nodded, he wanted to be through this cavern as fast as possible, as they would be vulnerable while flying on Vacanga.



“What about the spiders?”, Jaggenoth added.



Morgul turned to the priest, “They can stay behind, we don’t have the power to bring them all along.”
Morgul paused for a moment, “But, perhaps they could climb the walls without us on them? The can usually climb when they don’t have a rider, they could climb up the walls and across the ceiling.”



After some further discussion they all agreed to the plan, and Vacanga had fly cast upon him, then Shoon, Brother Naranjir, Gint and Zintar climbed atop the giant lizard, while Morgul hovered mid-air and grabbed Vacanga’s bridle to be pulled along as the giant lizard flew.


They sailed over the first stone column, looking down it was capped with a riot of grass, flowers, bushes and small trees, but there was nothing else of note. They passed over four more columns without incident.



Then, a giant spider crested the ledge, then another, then another. Gint’s torch had obviously stirred them, and they attacked with voracious intensity.



Ahrn was far enough back that he could safely use a magic item, and he took out his magical pipes and began to play.


One giant spider bit Carver hard, fortunately the poison in their fangs did not work into his system fast enough and Carver pushed the beast off.



The other giant spider was near to Essern and tried to bite him, but the illusionist’s cloak protected him.



Lenides was fast to react and he placed a finger on his forehead and spoke the words, “"varázsló nyíl"”, a sizzling purple spike of energy slid out of his forehead, hovering a hairs breadth from his finger, he then transferred the spike to the finger on his left hand and spun it in place, hovering inches from his fingertip, and he pulled another spike out.



After he had four in play, he targeted the giant spider that had attacked Essern, the four sizzling purple spikes shook the creature, and it died.


A third giant spider bit at Folix, but missed.


Suddenly, a swarm of 80 rats surged out of the walls and up from the pit to cover the two live giant spiders, each rat bit at the spider it was on and collectively the two giant spiders were covered by the filthy, savage creatures.


The rats began to eat the giant spiders alive, and they were too large to reach their assailants with a bit, so they feasted uninterrupted.



Carver charged over, and while one of the spiders was occupied with the rats he ran over and struck at it with his sword, the spider was well distracted by the rats and the blow cut a bloody scar across it’s abdomen.


Essern, whose spider was slain by Lenides, struck at one of the other spider’s legs, shearing it open to a wail and a shudder of agony on the spider’s part.



Folix ran forward towards the spider that Essern had just hit, and before it had a chance to flee he brought down his sword point first and drove it into the spider, burying the entire blade into it’s abdomen.


It plumed thick, foul blood and the spider thrashed and died.



With that, the rats on the dead spider fled for the last remaining live spider, and it disappeared under a mass of seething, foul creatures.


Ahrn stopped playing and the rats continued to devour the giant spider.



Morgul arrived back with Vacanga, the rest of the team deposited on the far side of the chasm. He took Essern, Wend and Jaggenoth on the back of Vacanga, Lenides was too large to go on except on his own, so he waited behind. Ahrn decided to stay in case he needed to play on his pipes again, not knowing how many giant spiders might be coming up.


Folix stayed behind with his employer.


Morgul and Vacanga started the trip across, when they had arrived on the other side there was a buzzing noise from behind them. Woken by the noise of the melee and the sound of Ahrn’s pipes, a cluster of creatures about the size of large melon appeared, their front sections were balls of fur with sharp yellow eyes, and each one had a long, whip like tail.


There were 11 creatures in the group, and they rushed towards the party.


Folix aimed his bow and fired off two shots, both hit the flying creature and it was slain.


Ahrn decided he would have no truck with combat, and cast a polymorph spell on himself, transforming into a bat and flying off towards the far side.


Lenides was attacked by part of the swarm, he killed one with a decisive strike of his staff, but four more focused on him. Five of the creatures attacked the wemic, the other five swarmed towards Folix.


Morgul had returned on Vacanga with Shoon behind him on the giant lizard, he had heard the commotion and wanted a spell caster with him. While they flew back Morgul had a suspicion, he looked up towards the ceiling. The lighting was bad, but he noticed after several seconds that the ceiling appeared to move. He stared more closely and saw what he believed to be creatures like the ones attacking the party.


There had to be hundreds of them… maybe thousands, blanketing the ceiling of the room.



Morgul called to the warlock sitting behind him, “What brought them down?”


Shoon was quick to respond, but in a quiet voice, “Noise, the fight, Ahrn’s pipes, it was enough to wake a few, we must be fast to avoid calling down others.”


Folix and Lenides were frantically tearing at the flying creatures, a few had latched on to the two men and were stinging them repeatedly.


Folix managed to skewer on with a sword, but four remained, one of them latched on tightly.



Morgul hefted a javelin, took aim carefully, feeling the breeze and waiting for Folix to stand still.



Which he did.



Morgul then threw his javelin and it passed through one of the creatures, slaying it.



It was a breathtaking shot.


Lenides clawed another one off of him and killed it.


Shoon spoke to Morgul, “I have an idea, these things are attracted to sound, I can lead them away… but you have to be quiet.”


Morgul directed Vacanga to land on the top of a nearby column, once down, Shoon took out a small ball of wax and placed it in his ear. He then whispered, “Hang a semmiből” and pointed to the air near the ledge. Suddenly, there was a booming noise, not too loud but not natural either, and the creatures attacking the men left and headed towards the noise.



Shoon directed it elsewhere while the others made their escape. Lenides cast a polymorph spell on himself, transforming into a peryton, and Folix jumped on his back before the creature flew off towards the other side.



Morgul and Shoon waited until everyone was moving and the creatures were as far away as the spell would allow, and they headed back across the chasm to join the rest of the party.



Morgul, for his part, stared upwards all the way across, and watched as more of the creatures detached and headed to the loud noise Shoon had created.



When they reached the other side they found that Essern had been investigating the chasm, and he spoke to Morgul when he landed.


“If those who came before us were attacked by those flying creatures, or the giant spiders, there’s a good chance they lay on the bottom of the chasm. It would be worth a look to see what is down there. Jaggenoth can make you silent, and you can lower yourself down…”



Morgul was not normally that interested in diving for treasure, but he also knew that they could find something important on the chasm floor, a detailed map, a key magical item that helped them in their quest.



“I’ll go”, he said.



Jaggenoth cast a silence spell on the paladin and he stepped out off the ledge, beginning to fall he activated his boots and his descent became controlled.



As Morgul moved further down he noted that the plant life atop the columns spilled over and went down the sides of the columns quite a distance.


The ground below him was pitch black, he could see nothing.



Morgul decided to risk being seen, and he ignited Helvete, its blue flames cast a faint but revealing light around the paladin.


The ground appeared to his eyes, it was completely covered in a thick, sinuous mat of webs, silver and grey, they filled up all of the chasm, it was not possible to know their depth, but it was clearly more than the height of a man.


And then there were the spiders, several hundred for sure, the all appeared to be asleep, so obviously the loud noise had brought them up.



Everywhere Morgul looked he could see giant spiders, if he landed here, or became trapped, he would be overwhelmed in short order.



But then he saw something else, the webs below him were also littered with skeletons, Morgul presumed they were the skeletons of those who had failed to cross the chasm.



Morgul began his ascent before he was discovered by the spiders and was soon back up on the ledge.



The party moved just outside the cave to avoid any surprises from the flying creatures, and reported what he saw.



“There is immense wealth and likely magic down there, but it would take us weeks to retrieve it, I’m not sure if I could even remove it from the webs. And there are easily hundreds of giant spiders down there, and hundreds of the flying creatures above. I don’t see how we can retrieve the items without risking certain death.”


Morgul, as always, spoke plainly.



“The ring!”, Jaggenoth barely stifled a shout, “we can use the ring to get all of the loot from the bottom, and even bring over our spiders.”


“Is that a wise use of such a powerful item?”, Ahrn was not convinced.



“Why not just wish ourselves to the fallen star?”, Lenides asked.



“Perhaps”, Jaggenoth said, “but depending on where it is, we could be wishing ourselves into a volcano, or a chasm, or who knows what. Retrieving these items is more straightforward, we know where they are and what guards them. The wish simply makes it possible to retrieve what we want quickly.”



Essern joined in the conversation, “We should do this quickly, no telling who was alerted to our presence with our crossing.”



The conversation lasted a few more minutes, but it was decided that the best course of action would be to wish for the items to be retrieved, along with the spiders. Then the conversation turned to how to word the request, and after a strenuous debate about whether or not to ask for “all the items” or “all the contents of the chasm, they decided on wording.


Jaggenoth again spoke the wish, he was felt to be the least likely to pervert the request for personal gain.



Jaggenoth held up the ring and began to speak, as he spoke the ring glowed slightly, then brightly, as the words came out of his mouth.



“I wish that all of the magical items and coins from the bottom of the chasm be transferred here, immediately, along with our giant snow spider mounts, in full health.”



There was the sound of crashing, and a shimmer to the air, then a heap of items appeared, with their giant snow spider mounts appearing a few feet away.



There were piles of gold, silver and platinum coins, as well as gems. And there were three swords, a set of chain mail armor, a pair of bracers, two rings, a dagger, a crossbow, a battle axe, a shield and a wand.



The group collected it all up and put it into the group’s bag of holding for now until they could safely identify the items.



[DM’s note: here was the haul: 80,000 gp, 20,000 sp, 3,000 pp, [20] 100 gp gems, +1 long sword,
+2 short sword [+4 vrs insects - "Zimir" - speech - INT:15, EGO:16, AL: CN, Special Purpose: destroy insects, Powers: levitation - 1 turn 3x per day, as 6th level caster, special purpose power - save or blindness for 2-12 rounds], +2 chain mail, +1 battle axe, +3 shield, +2 crossbow of speed, +1 dagger, +3 frost brand, Ring of mammal control, Wand of Frost (30), Bracers of Defense AC:3, Ring of Protection +2]



They then formed the marching order and headed out into the darkness again, there were some phosphorescent lichens and mosses in the tunnel, but not much else, leading them to place Zintar at the front for his infravision, and to have Ahrn send his shadows ahead as scouts.


Jaggenoth had cast a continual light spell on a stone he had given to the conjuror, Ahrn used it to look over part of the passage they had learned from the Legend Lore spell Shoon had cast,


“The next stop that will bar your way,
Is a cavern wide and deep,
Spires of stone and gossamer ground,
Deadly, black and steep.

Once you have passed these, in peace or in pieces,
Once you have made it this far,
White masks of blindness will soon surround you,
In the home of the bright fallen star.”



Ahrn spoke to Morgul, ahead of him in the marching order, “We have passed the last place mentioned in the legend, so our destination should be very soon.”



“What say you all, do we stop to rest and refresh, or do we press on?”



Everyone, more or less in unison, said the same thing, “Press on.”



The party rode into the darkness, the Star Knight on their heels, and their destination soon to be reached…

***************************************************

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl/ Descent into the Depths of the Earth part 4




Several of the party members drank healing potions to restore their health after the last assault, they wanted to reserve Jaggenoth’s spells for emergencies, and ensure his other helpful magics were available.


Morgul, Shoon and Folix took the first watch, everyone else bedded down, exhausted after their last 24 hours. They were ahead of the Star Knight so it was a short, 4 hour stop, but they needed it.


The ranger walked the perimeter of the camp, pausing at the cave mouth to peer into the blackness, after 30 or so feet he could see nothing. There was a long, winding passageway that led to this cave, Jaggenoth laid down a glyph of warding , Ahrn a fire trap, and Wend cast a spell that filled up the first 250 feet or so with an illusory forest of mushrooms like he had seen where the illithids attacked.


The area looked impassable, and concealed the glyph and fire trap.


The illusion was too far ahead for Folix to see it.


Like Morgul, Folix had learned to listen as much as look, the tunnel outside their side cavern was very quiet, there was virtually no water, moss or insects in this part of the caverns, so Folix listened for approaching creatures against a background of still silence.


A whisper of wind.


Nothing.


A creak and a moan: a hard gust from ahead made the brittle salt pillar stalagmites that fringed the passageways shiver. There was a sea of air that flowed through the underdark, it carried scents and sounds that could not escape the dome of rock above.


Folix breathed in, you would smell trogs, ghasts and trolls before you would see them down here.


Still nothing there.


A snap, then a crunch, and between crunches a smacking sound.


Folix pulled out a hand axe and his longsword. He cocked back the hand with the axe, ready to throw then follow up with his blade.


He peered into nothing...


Snap, crunch.


One of the giant snow spiders emerged out of the darkness in front of him like a revenant, and spit out the bones of some unfortunate underdark denizen.


Folix remembered that Wend recommended letting the spiders wander while the party slept, they were bred as loyal mounts and stayed close to the party (within 50' or so) but provided an early warning system and deterred some wildlife.


The spiders would eat them if they were ever killed, Folix was sure of it. Better that, however, than being left for a necromancer to raise, he thought. The drow would have necromancers, Ahrn had shared that tidbit during dinner yesterday, at that point Folix started eyeing the spiders. Folix continued his circuit, steps as silent as he could manage, listening...


Morgul sat with the sleeping party members while Shoon and Gilak were nestled on a small rock shelf about 10 feet up the far south wall. He had organized the sleeping area for the party such that he could enclose it with a wall of fire, he had a small bottle of phosphorus at his hand as he watched.


Then the air was pierced with a ragged scream.


Everyone was up with a bolt, Shoon scanned the ground and saw nothing.


Morgul whipped around and also saw nothing.


Then Essern heard gasping, and a moan, and looked over to see Gint convulse and... blood plume into the air.


"Gint is under attack!" he bellowed, others were closer than him.


Jaggenoth sprung over without his armor on and bardiche in hand, not sure what variety of underdark monster assaulted his comrade.


He gasped in horror as he saw the barbarian's chest, the broach he insisted on taking had burrowed into his heart and... ate a hole through it.


Gint lay dead on the cave floor, in a pool of his own blood.


The "scarab" scuttled across the ground and into the darkness.


Everyone stood around in shock.


Morgul was the first to respond, he shouted, “Folix, Carver and Wend, watch our perimeter, Essern, cast your spell that allows you to see hidden foes, we need to be sure that there are no enemies about to spring upon on when this happened, Ahrn, send your shadows out into the darkness to look for foes.”


The three men moved to the perimeter of the camp, Ahrn dispatched his shadows and Essern cast the spell as Morgul requested, peering out into the darkness for signs of enemies approaching.


Jaggenoth walked over to the paladin, “He insisted on wearing that damnable thing, he refused to believe my augury. He has seen my magic used many times, why did he not believe?”


Morgul had no answer.


“His wounds are beyond my ability to cure, I could only bring him back as a mindless husk”, Jaggenoth added.


"We have used our one option to bring back the dead already, it seems the ring might be a good idea", Lenides was nervous about the ring, truth to be told he was hoping they would use it while here and be done with it, all of the lore he had ever heard about wishes suggested they were a risky proposition.


Ahrn nodded, "If we want him back this is the way to do it, and honestly, it's probably better than a priest bringing him back, no offense Jaggenoth, as the barbarian would resent being brought back by some god not his own. He is in this predicament as he didn’t trust your god."


“He will resent being brought back by magic no matter where it came from, yes?” added Wend.


Morgul nodded, “Yes, I suppose so, but if it bothers him that much we could always dispatch him to his god easily enough.”


Lenides was about to laugh but stopped, Morgul was serious.


“We need his strength, and his sword, he has been there for us many times, I say we owe him to try and bring him back”, Zintar felt a debt to the barbarian.


Ahrn stepped up, “For what it’s worth, the barbarian held the heart to be the seat of courage and strength, remember how he ate the hearts of his defeated opponents a few times? I am fairly sure he would not want to die this way.”


Lenides was shocked that Lockyer had paid that much attention to the barbarian’s beliefs, but perhaps it was a case of knowing your enemy.


“Agreed”, Morgul added, “the ring then.”


Jaggenoth looked at the ring on his finger, the party had trusted him to take care of it, and now it was to be used.


“We have to be sure of the wording of the request, using this ring is a huge risk.”


Everyone agreed.


Folix joined the men and reported, “The perimeter is secure, Essern has seen nothing of note.”


Morgul nodded.


They waited for several minutes and the shadows returned, sliding flat across the ground then pulling up into their full, three dimensional humanoid forms. They spoke in dark whispers to Ahrn, none of the others could hear them.


“They found nothing”, Ahrn reported.


Morgul nodded, “Jaggenoth, it is time.”


The group spent several minutes discussing the wording of the wish, they didn’t want Gint returning with no mind, or in a defective body, or any one of a number of other things they could think of. Finally, after some back and forth, they decided on a simple and straightforward request.


They all prayed it did not go awry.


Jaggenoth spoke the words in an even, controlled tone.


“I wish that Gint Longtusk of the Steppes Tusk Tribe be restored to the state he was in before his life was taken by the magical scarab.”


The ring, a simple gold band, began to glow, first slightly then intensely, casting a soft golden light that illuminated the entire cavern in a sunset of pure power.


Jaggenoth blinked, when he opened his eyes the barbarian was very much alive, his chest intact, and asleep like a baby.


Everyone laughed, a giddy, terrifying kind of laugh. This was a power they could not even grasp.


Then they noticed that the scarab was back on his chest. Essern reacted the fastest, snatching the scarab and throwing it to the ground. Morgul, following his lead, called out “Helvete” and his sword burst into blue hot flame, and he struck the scarab repeatedly, until it ws smashed into tiny pieces.


Jaggenoth walked over and woke the barbarian.


He looked startled for a second, assuming he was woken as they were under attack. He then calmed and looked around.


“Why are you all staring?”


“You were dead, my barbarian friend, that scarab you wore came alive and ate your heart.”


Gint looked around at everyone, it was clear that Jaggenoth was serious, and everyone seemed to believe him. He felt around for the scarab but could not find it. Lenides pointed to the smashed scarab on the ground.


“It… ate my heart?”


Jaggenoth nodded.


“Who brought me back, was it you, priest?”


Jaggenoth shook his head and tapped the ring on his finger.


Gint took out his dagger and drew it across his open palm, he held out the knife and Jaggenoth held out his hand, Gint did the same to his palm and they grasped hands.


Gint nodded, “My thanks then priest, and my sword is pledged to you. To die in this way, with my heart destroyed, would have kept me from Valhalla. To die in battle, that is my desire. You have risked your life and saved my soul.”


“I’m a priest, barbarian, what’s another saved soul eh?”


They both smiled.


Morgul turned to Shoon, “We need to know how far ahead we are, can you scry on the Star Knight again?”


Shoon nodded, “Just remember he could become aware of us, any time we do this.”


Morgul nodded, “Understood, but we need to know.”


Shoon took out a small crystal bowl, and poured water, filling the bowl. He then whispered the words, ”Mutasd meg nekem” three times over and dipped his fingers into the water, then took out his fingers and pressed them to his closed eyes.


The surface of the water in the bowl revealed an image, the others peered over his shoulders to see what was happening.


They saw a chaotic scene, the Star Knight and his party were in heated combat, the slaad were firing off bolts of energy from the snake-like metal weapons around their arms, and the Garudin were hurling javelins from above. On the ground a group of levitated drow were returning fire at the Garudin using hand crossbows, while others cast spells at the Slaad.


A fireball went off in the midst of the slaad, lighting up the caves for several seconds like a miniature sun.


The slaad appeared unfazed.


Shoon spoke up, “I think I recognize that cave, see that purple moss all over the ground, and the stream passing through, the snow spiders ate well there, they are a least a few hours behind us, if not more. If the battle delays them, or forces them to stop and heal, we will have more time.”


Morgul nodded, “We leave now, preserve our lead.”


Everyone was weary of the drive forward but agreed, the Justiciar was usually right about these things, so they saddled up the giant spiders and left the security of their cave, heading back into the main passage.


The next few miles were uneventful, Ahrn sent ahead his shadows to scout for possible enemies and Wend transformed into a small bird to do the same. They encountered no other travelers for several hours.


Then, the group noticed a slight glow from ahead, indicating a cavern with luminescence.


Wend returned from scouting and landed, transforming back into human form, “There is a cave ahead, large, poorly lit but artificially lit nonetheless, so we are likely going to meet resistance.”


The group proceeded with caution.


Eventually they arrived in a large cave, this one stretched forwards into darkness, but they could see further into it due to the presence of fire beetles in cages on the walls, they provided weak but sufficient illumination to see about 60 feet ahead.


The party entered the cave and proceeded slowly.


They had made it about 50 feet or so in when a torch light appeared in the distance to the west for a moment, then disappeared into a side cave.


The group charged forward to find out the source of the light, if it was a sentry of some sort it could alert others to their presence, so it had to be neutralized.


The group dismounted at the cave mouth and sprinted in, weapons drawn.


The torchlight was just ahead of them, and it was illuminating… something they could not quite make out.


Then the torchlight disappeared, and the party heard a terrifying noise, it was loud, clearly some sort of creature, and it was the sound of rage.


Jaggenoth cast a continual light spell above them, and the bright light, as bright as a midday sun, illuminated the cavern. There were several large objects which looked like eggs lying around the room, and in the middle was a very large, very angry purple worm.


The worm’s head rose into the air and its foul maw opened, revealing rows of jagged, filthy teeth, it then launched itself at the party, crashing into the ground without hitting anyone.


Shoon cast a shield spell on himself.


Ahrn was the furthest back, flanked by his shadows, and took out a small bag and a candle, he opened the bag, held it out with one hand, and waved the candle back and forth in front of him four times, then placed the candle in the bag, closed it up, and spoke the words "Izom, ín és a csont , tedd, amit parancsolok , majd hazamegy”


Gint charged to the beast and hit it with his scimitar, sending a dark, ochre blood spraying through the air.


Carver hit it with his sword, in his newfound body he was quite strong, and the beast took another hit.


Zintar fired off four magic missiles at the creature, each smashed into its body, damaging it.


Wend swung with his hammer and hit.


Essern fired his crossbow and missed.


Morgul knew this was a powerful beast, and decided to use his most powerful weapon, he took out a javelin from his quiver and hefted it at the beast, once thrown it transformed into a bolt of lightning that soared through the air to strike the side of the beast, sizzling and spitting out blood from the jagged wound it left in the beast’s side.


The purple worm wailed in pain.


Brother Naranjir struck out with his Lucerne hammer and tore another hole in its side.


Jaggenoth charged forward with his bardiche and brought it down in a two handed blow that sliced open the worm, causing it to shudder in pain.


Folix stabbed it with his longsword and left an ugly wound in its side, and Lenides clawed at the creature, his instincts taking over due to the proximity to the massive thing. Chunks of flesh flew to the ground.


Wend swung and struck with his hammer but the blow was ineffective.


The beast was now bleeding from multiple attacks, and it reared up then shot down, roaring as it went… and it ate Shoon in one large fanged bite. Its maw closed and the warlock disappeared from view.


Morgul shouted, “Shoon has been taken, slay the beast NOW!”


Folix struck hard with his sword a second time, tearing open a huge gash in the beast.


Jaggenoth hit it again with his bardiche, causing the beast to twist and writhe.


Morgul lit up Helvete and swung the sword at the worm, tearing open a huge gash and almost splitting the beast in two. Blood poured out onto the floor in buckets and there was a horrible screaming noise.


The beast convulsed, almost crushing Essern, and then it died.


Shoon, who was very close to the wound that Morgul had inflicted, clawed his way out of the creature through the seam of Morgul’s sword stroke. He was covered in guts and blood, and looked utterly shocked. Shoon was rattled but surprisingly not badly hurt. The beast had swallowed him whole rather than biting him in two, so he counted himself lucky.


Jaggenoth grabbed him before he fell, steadied the warlock, and when he nodded that he was ready cast a create water spell above him, drenching him and cleaning off most of the viscera from his body.


Morgul shouted, “We were led here, which means we are discovered, we must leave NOW!”


Everyone headed out of the cave and mounted on their giant spiders, while Jaggenoth’s continual light spell illuminated the carnage of the cave in perpetuity, the spell would last forever, a grotesque tribute to the daytime from the bowels of the underdark.


As they rode out without any idea of what lay ahead, the party could hear a sound from the southeast of the cavern, from deep in the darkness.


It was a slavering, gibbering sound, harsh and violent, and accompanied by the shuffle of feet.


“Which way do we go!” Essern shouted.


Morgul didn’t know what lay ahead, but he felt confident that they had to move away from that noise.


“Priest, I would see our opponents, light up the cave!”


Jaggenoth cast another continual light spell, this time he cast it into the space south of them, towards the noises, as far ahead as he could.


What he saw chilled his blood. Just outside of the illumination of the spell he could see a large group of creatures, tall and grotesque, he recognized their shambling gait well.


Trolls, about a dozen of them.


Morgul shouted, “Follow me!”, as he directed his giant spider north.


The party followed as quickly as they could, fortunately they were faster than the trolls on their spiders, but they needed something more.


“Phantasmist”, Morgul shouted, “cover our exit!”


Essern reigned in his giant snow spider and turned, he took out a pinch of split peas and spoke the words, “Stěny mlhy“.


Suddenly, to the south of them, and enveloping all of the trolls, was a thick, opaque wall of fog.


Morgul renewed the charge north.


As they rode north they reached an exit to the cave, they could also see several other exits, but this one was closest so they stayed the course.


As the entered the passage Gint shouted at them all, “Incoming from the left flank!”, the barbarian had noticed movement in the distance to their left and caught a glimpse in the shadows of a giant slug, larger than an elephant, and the slug spit a noxious stream of liquid in their direction.


Everyone managed to avoid the spittle but Zintar, who was hit across the back.


The lizard man screamed in agony as the acid ate at his skin.


The party rode on as the slug was too slow to follow, Zintar folded down on his giant snow spider’s back, alive but wounded, as they left the area.


The trolls had been slowed slightly, and the passage narrowed to about 40 feet in width.


Shoon shouted at Morgul, “I can slow them down!”, he reigned in his spider and took out a cluster of webs from his belt pouch.


Zintar sat up and grimaced, then did the same.


The two warlocks spread out the webs between their fingers, like a cat’s cradle, and spoke the words, “Jobbra-balra , fel és le , az én csapda , akkor óhatatlanul” and blew through the webs in their hands. The webs disappeared from their hands and reappeared across the passage, each mass of webs was 40 feet wide, 20 feet tall and 10 feet deep, making a barrier 20 feet deep for their pursuers to push through.


Morgul shouted, “Now, forward!”


They rode forward, and from a side cave a group of 7 bugbears appeared, however they did not attack, instead, they moved towards Ahrn and stood in front of the conjuror, waiting.


His monster summoning spell had culminated.


Essern heard noises from deeper in the side cave where the bugbears had appeared, the spell had summoned them from their lair.


Ahrn did not hesitate, and sent the bugbears back into the cave to delay any others that might appear.


The party rode on just past the bugbear cave, and Jaggenoth turned as they were heading up the passage to see how their pursuers were advancing, and what he saw took his breath away.


He could not count with exactness, but there were at least 40 trolls approaching the first web, slavering and growling, thirsty for their blood, and they quickly began to tear through the webs.


The priest cursed loudly “Kali ke daant!”


Shoon heard his curse and turned to see the trolls tearing at the webs they had cast. A wave of terror flooded over him, he saw the foul things behind them tearing open his flesh with their filthy fangs and teeth.


He stopped his spider, reached into his component pouch and took out a pinch of dark red powder. He smeared it on his fingers and held his hands straight out and touched his fingertips together, he then pulled his hands out in a wide arc behind his back where his fingers touched again.


The red powder glowed red, then orange, then yellow, then white.


He spoke the words, “Láng magasan”, then pulled his fingers apart and swung his hands back around in a circle again, as they swung back at the same time a thick wall of flames formed out of thin air and immolated the webs and the trolls that were tearing through them.


The air vibrated with the screams of the burning trolls.


They heard the sounds of bugbears fighting bugbears in the nearby cave.


Shoon shouted at Morgul, “That won’t stop all of them, someone cover me!”


Carver and Folix came over and put themselves in front of the warlock as he took out a scroll and began to read it. The words on the scroll shimmered and waved, disappearing as he spoke them.


Suddenly, a large wall of iron appeared between them and the bugbears and trolls, it sealed off the entire passageway, blocking any pursuit.


Morgul smiled, his henchman may not have been the most powerful warlock he had known, he threw no fireballs and cast no lightning bolts, but he had proven his worth today, and right after being swallowed by a purple worm!


“Now!” Morgul shouted, “we ride!”


The party rode away from the wall as fast as they could, the sounds of screaming trolls and the clash of fighting bugbears muted behind the iron.


By the time the wall of fire was exhausted many of the trolls were dead, but the drow who had lured the party into the purple worm cave had avoided the flames, he and two others approached the wall of iron that Shoon had placed across the passage.


One of the drow cast a dispel magic spell against the wall, hoping to abjure it, but it was ineffective.


He turned to the others, “Send a rider to one of the other passages out of the main cave, it branches off in several places, one of those branches will bring him back to the main passage, either catch up to these men and follow them, or head forward to the next checkpoint and alert them to their approach.”


Another one of the drow laughed, “You will be skinned alive for this, they killed the worm and passed through on your watch.”


The first drow spit on the ground, “I will skin them alive for this myself.”


*************************************************************************************************

The party made its way forward as fast as they could, none were sure if they were going to be pursued or not, and there were other exits from the cave they had left that could connect back up with the main passage.


Zintar had been badly burned from the giant slug spit, but Morgul laid on hands soon after they fled and healed the burns almost completely. Shoon had taken some damage from the purple worm as well, and he was given a healing potion which addressed most of it. Their supply of healing potions was dwindling fast.


Still, everyone was tired from pushing through to stay ahead of the Star Knight, and the warlocks had not been able to rememorize spells.


Despite being tired, they did not want to slow down for fear of being overtaken by the Star Knight’s party, so they pressed on in the main passageway. After passing through the last cave the passageway had narrowed slightly, but only slightly, they still couldn’t see either side of the passage unless they moved all the way over to one side, and if they did that they still didn’t see the far side.


The darkness was pervasive, and Morgul insisted that they ride “dark” to avoid alerting every living thing in the passages to their presence, which made it all the worse. Zintar and Lenides had infravision, which was somewhat helpful, but it didn’t extend far enough ahead to give them any great confidence, particularly as the various denizens of the underdark likely had greater infravision than they did.


It put the party at a constant disadvantage, one which had led to them being surprised several times already, by the drow and the illithids.


The only real advantage that they had was the giant snow spiders; they moved almost completely noiselessly, Wend could transform into innocuous animal forms and scout ahead, and Ahrn had two charmed shadows he could send ahead that were unlikely to be seen in this abyssal place.


Everyone down the line was on edge.


In particular, Essern was challenged by the environment. For the phantasmist to create illusions, he channeled his sensory experience into the spell, it used his sensations to make the illusions more convincing. How else to explain that sometimes even an illusion with no heat can cause a man to die, thinking himself immolated? The spell tapped into the victim’s mind and the illusionist’s mind, fusing their experiences into something that seemed real.


Because of this Essern was very connected to his senses, he was always watching, listening, tasting (Zintar teased him that he must have a magic belt, as he ate so much food and seemed to stay the same size), for the phantasmist this was a world of sensation, and he was a sensualist, immersed in it all.


However, there were times when the lack of visibility, combined with the smooth ride on the giant snow spider, made Essern feel like he was floating along through the air, disembodied, disconnected from his sensations. It was a strange, alienating feeling, and only contributed to the loneliness of the place, and put Essern off his game.


Two things helped him cope, the first was the periodic passage of large swarms of luminescent insects. Essern had taken to cataloging them as he rode, so far besides the fire beetles which he was familiar with, there were large bee like fliers, green and black in color with glowing yellow wings, creatures that looked like butterflies with a gold spiral pattern on their wings that trailed a cloud of glowing orange smoke, and long segmented insects that switched between jet black and steel blue in color as they flew, making them “blink” in and out of your vision.


The second was sound, since the spiders were light footed and none of the armor wearing party members were marching, the surrounding noises were far more pronounced, augmented by the lack of visual input, stimulating the hearing to greater sharpness.


The main passageway was a riot of noises, yet all were muted, perhaps due to the acoustics of immense caverns, noise travelled, even the quietest. Snickering, clicking, creaks and croaks, hissing, growling, humming and buzzing, distant barks, yowls, trickles… almost constant trickling of water in some parts of the cave, in others a cackling stream.


This place was a garden of unearthly delights.


They pushed through the darkness for hours, Morgul set a grueling 12 hour march ahead, with short stops every hour to allow them to rest and for the spiders to feed.


The spiders, none of them had anticipated what it would be like to ride on them for extended periods of time.


Essern wondered if he would ever forget the sight of the spiders when they came upon a stretch of the passageway filled with dog sized animals that looked like a cross between a boar and a spider, with ten leathery legs and a furry midsection, with a head like a boar with a spiders eyes and four 6 inch fangs. The snow spiders went into a frenzy at the prospect of eating, some parts of the passageway had been bereft of feed for them. The sight of the feast that followed, with the giant snow spiders gorging on their smaller brethren would haunt the phantasmist forever, and he would portray it in an illusion only against those he truly hated.


Their giant snow spiders had large saddles and allowed riders to lean back and sleep on the spider if the ground was particularly inhospitable. The marching order was 6 deep and 2 wide, and everyone in the party on this extended march took a rotation on the middle two spiders, and leaned back and slept. These spiders were tethered to those in front of them, and they kept up the pace. Jaggenoth was amazed at how comfortable it was, the spiders were incredibly smooth in their movement, and they had furs and blankets left over from their venture to the glacial rift, so they managed to cover a great deal of ground and still get some rest. The spiders needed a 10 min rest every hour or so, and then to feed every two hours or so.


Essern was amazed at the ability of the spiders to cross rough terrain and move around obstacles, they could even climb walls.


They had a brief scuffle with a pair of frost giants. The Jarl had sent two after the party, as he was interested in seeing what transpired between the Star Knight and the men.


The giants caught up to the party about halfway through their 12 hour run.


Ahrn, who was on watch, saw them coming as his shadows reported their impending arrival. He cast a charm upon them when they were close enough, charmed one, and had him beat the other to death.


The conjuror showed no mercy, as they would show him none.


The charmed giant was wounded badly enough that Jaggenoth ended it’s life with a single blow from his bardiche, and he took some of his teeth from its severed head as an offering for Rudra, burying the teeth with a blessed arrowhead and then setting them afire with holy oil.


He whispered, “bijalee ke lie” over and over in prayer as it burned.


Ahrn, Zintar and Shoon all extracted fingers for use in spells, Essern started working on a sculpture of the giant from a piece of blue rock he had found pliable to his knife.


“This is unexpected, it would have been useful to speak with them and ask why they were following us, has the Jarl betrayed us?” Morgul looked concerned.

No one had and answer, so they set out again.


At the six hour point the party saw a distant glow.


Essern was then pleased as the party entered the next section of the main passage, there was a clearly delineated path ahead, slightly winding but going forward. The main passage here was about a third of a mile across, and the terrain ahead was filled with large pools of water, some more than a hundred feet in diameter, all dark, dark emerald in color. The path wound between them.


There was only one kind of plant there, a tall flower with a black stalk and branches, and leaves that looked like full sphere dandelion heads but purple in color. They emitted a dull purple glow through the chamber.


But the real light came from the insects.


Millions of them filled up the passageway, and for as far as the eye could see, perhaps a half mile or so, the passageway was lit up like twilight from their glow.


Some insects were brighter than others, indeed, to the point of being painful to look at directly, but those were rare, the vast majority were luminescent on a spectrum from barely visible to as bright as a log fire at its center.


Essern wept quietly, his eyes felt like they had been bathed after a walk in the desert.


“This is magnificent”, Morgul whispered, as if afraid to disturb the scene with his sparse words.


Jaggenoth breathed in deeply, and prayed.


None of the insects flew amongst the foliage, Essern noted, all were above it.


Brother Naranjir breathed in, and as they approached, leaned over towards the trees, then he thought the better of it. The trees were about 10 – 12 feet tall, and the insects stayed above that, so the party was beneath a suspended ocean of glowing insects, Brother Naranjir stood up full in his saddle so he was close to it’s waves.


Brother Naranjir’s mastery of his body extended to his mind. He could communicate with animals, simple exchanges, but insects were hard, very jumpy, flying ones moreso.


He shouted, “How may we pass?”


A large pinwheel insect appeared, it was segmented and each segment had a leathery hard skin, but they were connected in a wheel with spokes of the same form, at the center was a glowing worm with two large antennae. At each fulcrum of the ring there was a pair of gossamer wings, waving like a hummingbird’s.


As it spoke its brightness and color changed from candle to inferno, and through the spectrum, with each word spoken.


“You may pass by the path, none other.”


“Stay with us as we pass?”


There was a pause, then.


“Yes.”


Morgul rode ahead of Gint, forming a single line back, as the path was about 15 feet across.


“Are there beasts here to harm us?”


“No”, a small fire of indigo.


“Do the trees wish us harm?”


“The trees would consume you” a red spark then a yellow blaze then an emerald sunset then an indigo sparkle and an orange glow assailed the senses.


The monk and the insect discussed matters further for the entire time they passed through the passage, bleeding behind them a trail of bright color.


Jaggenoth was tasked with watching Gint, to ensure the barbarian didn’t enter the trees, he looked eager to test them.


They passed through the chamber unmolested.


Finally, the group camped near the edge of the illuminated area in a small cave..


It was decided to have Shoon use the crystal bowl again.


He opened the scrying gate and the party saw a scene that chilled them.


The Star Knight stood in a large cave, it was lit to low levels by hundreds of caged fire beetles in hundreds of cages. There were drow there, many, many troglodytes, and some gargoyles as well. There were a lot of bugbears, and a number of giant lizards they had never seen before.


The Star Knight’s Slaad and the Queen’s guards all hovered on their discs.


They were in parley with the drow.


They could had been talking for hours considering the time the party left and not knowing when they arrived.


There was silence at the moment, both parties standing. It appeared that no one was itching for a fight.


The Star Knight then spoke, “How often?”


“Daily, sometimes more than once a day, but there are also magical means if needed.”


The Star Knight nodded.


The Jaguar Queen spoke next, “Magical means can be detected, how long if you just use runners?”


The drow were used to women taking commanding roles and asking questions, so they responded easily to the Star Knight’s consort.


“We can have a message to the next checkpoint in an hour, then the next checkpoint an hour after that, right up the line. If they remain mounted we will be able to overtake them in about half a day, maybe less. Once we are that close we can track them easily, or perhaps divert them into a dead end.”


The Star Knight nodded, “We could overtake them directly, but my queen has advised me that these men may be from the city we left. Her instincts are very good.”


The drow laughed, “Do you fear them that much?”


The Star Knight did something that Shoon had never seen him do.


He laughed, loudly and with much passion.


“I spent some time in the city, I spoke to powerful men and women asking questions about what I seek, it only stands to reason that one of those I spoke to might want to find it first, to either use it or to demand concessions from me to get it. This is basic strategy, is it not, obtain that which another wants and you have the advantage.”


The drow looked skeptical, “Why not hit them when they are not expecting it? The advantage would be yours.”


The Star Knight looked at the Drow and frowned slightly, “Your thirst for violence does not serve you well. Perhaps they know the destination of what I seek and I can let them lead me to it? Or, alternatively, they can fight with the various underdark monsters that bar our way to our destination first, weakening their resistance to us at their expense.”


The drow paused and smiled a wicked smile.


“It is agreed then, we will send ahead runners to track the progress of the group, and you can follow at whatever distance you want.”


“We need to stop for several hours, find us a tolerably dry cave large enough for all.”


With this Shoon broke contact, terrified of being discovered.


“They have paired off with the drow, that can’t be a positive development”, Folix offered a rare but crucial observation.


“They are at least 10 hours behind us at this point, I think we should bed down properly and get some real rest, rememorize some spells.”


While they were looking around for side caves and concealed areas, Wend landed on Lenides’ back, in the form of a large raven, and cawed loudly.


Brother Naranjir spoke in response, “Apparently the drow wait amassed for us up ahead.”


Morgul looked over, “Is that what he said?”


The raven shimmered and wavered and then suddenly Wend was standing there.


“I said nothing of the sort.”


Brother Naranjir and Gint both burst out laughing.


“There are no drow ahead, but there is something else amazing”, Wend waved them forward.


They arrived in a wide open area, light here was provided by luminescent insects that flew in a fairly thick cloud over a river that stretched off into the distance to the left and the right, as far as the eye could see, and appeared to be about 80-100 feet across in the middle. The waters of the river were jet black, like some bitter god had stained them in retaliation for dragging it down into the darkness.


In addition there were luminescent fish in the water, some jellyfish like with unusual colors and patterns, some more fish like but exaggerated in size and varying from fish whose entire bodies reflected any light that caught them, to fish who had glowing tails, antennae or fins, to still other fish that colored the water behind them with sparkling, iridescent swirls. Several of the fish would periodically leap from the water, maws open and snatch insects from the air.


Wend was amazed at the variety of living things he saw, the underdark was a cacophony of life. He looked down into the black depths of the river, “The bright fish let you see the occasional glimpse of the depth of the river”, he pointed just downstream and Morgul looked down to see a bright fish that was clearly quite a bit further down than he had originally thought. It’s light threw shadows on larger… things below. The river looked to be at least as deep as it was wide, if not deeper, given what the paladin could see.


And dimly visible across the river was a barge with a fish man atop it.


Morgul turned to Wend, the druid was back in human form and stretching, “He’s the ferryman I take it?”


Wend nodded, “I was about 2 hours ahead of all of you by flying before I started flying back. I stayed here for an hour and watched him ferry across two groups, one group of about 20 kua-toan pilgrims and another a small drow merchant caravan. You get on, pay the requested amount and he takes you across. Seems harmless.”


"I do not like the idea of trusting ourselves to that bargeman", Lenides looked sceptical about the fish-man, as did Zintar and Shoon.


Morgul looked out over the water and sighed.

"I don't either, we are too vulnerable on the water", Morgul turned to the warlocks, "so what do you propose?"


Folix left the group and moved back towards where they entered the cave, he tagged Brother Naranjir to come with him, both the woodsman and the monk were particularly good at spotting foes, both were sharp and alert. Folix didn't want to be caught unprepared again. And he had no interest in the discussion, let the others determine what to do, he was focused on keeping them alive…


He stared back into the corridor they came from, all he could see was inscrutable blackness with flashes of insect light appearing for brief seconds then fading as if swallowed by the dark.


Back by the water the discussion continued, "I can enchant Vacanga to fly, he takes 4 others, Lenides can enchant himself to fly and take 2 others. Then Morgul returns for the stragglers."


Shoon interjected, “and what of my familiar?”


Morgul spoke up, "I can make it back over and take the beast on Vacanga's back, I can levitate beside Vacanga, leaving all the space for your familiar. Will the spell last long enough for three trips?”


Lenides nodded, “Absolutely, many more than that.”


Morgul nodded, “Good.”


"What about the spiders?", Carver added.


"They can swim", Wend suggested, "they are large and intimidating enough that they should be fine.”


Gint screwed up his face and blurted out something, he had been unusually quiet since they brought him back, the enormity of what happened to him was sinking in slowly.


“The spiders need protection, we are in trouble if they are hurt.”


The men began to debate Gint’s claim when Ahrn spoke up, “Longtusk is correct, those spiders are too important to lose, I may be able to address this.”


The conjuror waved at Carver and he walked over, “Stand in for Folix if you please”.


Carver nodded, “Aye aye.”


Carver the ogre took out his sword and positioned himself beside the warlock, if anything was to molest him it would meet the fighter’s steel head on.


Ahrn sat cross legged and took out a small bag and a candle, he opened the bag, held it out with one hand, and waved the candle back and forth in front of him four times, then placed the candle in the bag, closed it up, and spoke the words "Izom, ín és a csont , tedd, amit parancsolok , majd hazamegy”


He sat with his eyes closed for a minute, then the water split and four creatures emerged from the frigid blackness. The tops of their heads appeared, first, slick and grey with ears that were tight to the side of their heads and pointing back, eyes of flickering green, as if encrusted with emeralds. Their noses were slits but their mouths were a cage of razor sharp fangs, dirty yellow in color. They were humanoid, and covered with scales, each had webbed hands and feet with hooked grey claws, and fins on their foreams and lower legs. On their backs were large wings, somewhat like bat wings, that they used to propell themselves through the water.


The four creatures stood in a semi-circle in front of Ahrn.


”Interesting” the conjuror mouthed.


”What are they”, Essern asked, he had never seen anything like these creatures.


Zintar responded, ” Kopoacinth, I believe they are called, water gargoyles, I’ve never seen one, but I’ve read about them.”


”These will accompany the spiders, ensuring the water is clear for them.”


They proceeded according to plan, Zintar cast a fly spell on Vacanga and the giant lizard wailed for a moment as it began to raise into the air, Morgul stroked his neck for several moments and spoke soothing words to the beast until it calmed, then he pointed down and the lizard slowly floated down to the ground near the water. Shoon, Carver, Essern, Jaggnoth and Gint climbed on at Morguls direction, he then activated his boots and grabbed Vacanga by the halter, and pointed to the other side of the river.


They flew through the air slowly but steadily towards the other side.


As soon as they took off the ferryman dove into the water, and disappeared from view.


The arrived on the other side shortly, and all disembarked.


The spiders entered the water with the Kopoacinth going in around them, Gilak also jumped in at the same time, desperate to make it back to his master, the water gargoyles deterred any of the other creatures from assault and they made it across safely.


Once they were across Ahrn dismissed the water gargoyles and they walked into the water, the blackness swallowing them as their heads disappeared from view.


Lenides cast fly on himself and took over Ahrn.


Vacanga returned with Morgul in tow and picked up Brother Naranjir, Folix, Wend and Zintar.


They ferried across safely.


Everyone mounted back on the giant spiders and continued forward into the semi-darkness, the next section of the tunnel started to descend noticeably, and mosses, tall grasses and some clusters of lichen became prominent all around a well marked trail. But most noticeable were strange trees with blood red bark and burnt orange blossoms that split into fours and had purple serrated edges, dripping ichor to the floor.


The ichor dripped syrupy from the blossoms and when it hit the ground would sizzle and send up a cloud of deep red-orange smoke that drifted upwards and formed a large cloud that lined the ceiling of the corridor for about a half mile forward. The adventurers could see it as the red-orange smoke gave off a glow, the whole corridor looked as if bathed in the light of a roaring pyre.


Essern dubbed them ”unajawal” trees, bastardizing the names of two plants he knew that had similar colors to the trees.


The insects tapered off here to one major variety, a butterfly like thing the size of a kobold with soft sapphire colored wings striated with yellow, and a long spike tail. There were butterflies every hundred feet or so, they planted their tail spikes into the tree blossoms periodically, using them to drain liquid from the bloom.


Wend transformed into a small jackdaw and flew over the trees for a short time, then landed on Brother Naranjir’s shoulder and the two conversed for a short time, caws were interspersed with the monk’s soflty spoken words.


”If we follow the trail to the left it ends in a copse that can only be approached by the one path, every other way is blocked by thickets of trees that will make intruders noticeable as they pass through. It’s defensible.”


Morgul had been discussing shelters with Wend as the druid had become the party’s default scout, he was getting better at identifying good sites for bedding down.


They travelled for about 10 mintues off the main path and found the clearing, it was ideal and completely invisible from the main path.


Morgul smiled, ”Wards and watches, Gint and Wend are up first!”

Ahrn found a spot and reclined on his giant snow spider, he had taken to sleeping atop the creature as it was comfortable and allowed him a fast egress if needed.


And those spider eyes, they missed little…


His two charmed shadows collapsed down from standing to flatten across the ground and flit back and forth in the darkness around the conjuror as he slept, ready to strike at any who would harm him.


Jaggenoth laid down a glyph of warding near the entrance to the path to the clearing, then he walked to the center of the clearing, sat down and put his bow in his lap. He began to chant the words ” aatma mujhe dekhane ke lie” over and over again to himself, and fell into a trance. He then placed his hand on his chest over his heart and shouted the words one more time, pulling out his hand it trailed a black smoke, Jaggenoth thrust his hand out and the smoke corkscrewed out of his chest and collected itself in front of him, looking vaguely like a dragon or a wyvern.


The ”wyvern” reared its head up then appeared to float in the air above the party, it’s head moving around every so slightly as it sat, as if it were scanning the area.


Jaggenoth looked at Morgul, ”I haven’t used that as I thought it might spook the spiders, but it will keep an eye over us and attack anything that gets too close.”


The party slept for 6 hours, that was the most Morgul was willing to countenance, and when they woke they rememorized spells and prepared their mounts.


The party set out on the path between the looming unajawal trees on their arachnids, their dripping ichor a staccato marching beat for their eightfold legs.



The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl/Descent into the Depths of the Earth - Part 5 Ahrn Lockyer, Conjuror and Warlock of House...