We talked with our rescued slaves while waiting for Lydia to answer our chalk circle (good thing we’ve never used it for an emergency evacuation).
One of them (Dwr) says he was captured from a merchant caravan, and thrown into the pit as a sacrifice. Says he’s the only one left of his group.
The other one (Dirat) was a bit more evasive…says he came to the Temple for work, but displeased one of the leaders and was “given” to the giants in the node (the Temple gave him tools on the other side, and the giants were waiting for him when he arrived).
Wonder what the giants needed slaves for? Digging out a cozier cave in the rock?
Mikael said the two were on the level, and he seemed to know what he was talking about, so we settled down and fed them and watched the slimes and rats eating the giants’ bodies outside the fortress.
About noon (for places that have noon), Lydia finally showed up. She scolded us for not taking care of Heiron, but I think he did pretty well for himself (and he insists it’s “just a scratch,” though he might be trying to sound tough, since at least one bone is broken).
Raven has been very disappointed at the lack of cheese in the node. He led the rescued prisoners out through the mirror (to show them how), and we found out later that he ran off to buy some nice cheese.
Ezekiel was looking pretty pale and shriveled still (which he doesn’t normally), and Heiron and I could both do with some sitting quietly…but Ez was worried about returning to this exact spot to explore the rest of the cavern (completing our circuit of the northern side). But resting for days on end in the node just didn’t make much sense, and then Wonillon pointed out that if we left the fortress standing here, Lydia could scry us right back to it — and it’s not like anybody else could steal it (not while it’s full-size, and they don’t know the password).
So then it was decided, and we crawled through the mirror back into Lydia’s room. We helped Ezekiel and Heiron walk back to the Welcome Wench and bundled them into bed with chicken soup (Mother always said that was good for what ailed you).
Mikael promised to heal us some more in the morning, then disappeared into the woods with Cuddles, which meant it was just me and Mister Whisker, so we went into the back yard and played fetch. (Tressarian says I forgot him and Wonillon, but Wonillon doesn’t like to play fetch.)
It took three days, but Ezekiel’s back on his feet – and back to his old tan complexion. He’s also ready to head back to the nodes for more…which is nice, that he’s not a fainting violet.
At first he was all anxious to go fight the dragons…but we haven’t seen Raven in a few days (he told Lydia he was looking for cheese, but maybe he got kidnapped by a sinister dairy merchant) and I think we should have his magic rope of overpowering with us when we try that.
The other option was to finish our sweep of the north of the Air Node, then use the rune to head to the Water Node. Lydia has filled the ring of storage with “airy water,” which apparently surrounds you with a bubble of “breathable” space when you’re underwater.
She also filled us in a bit on the Earth and Fire elementals she’s read about (better safe than sorry). Apparently elementals are called “grus” (like the Wind Terrors we met), and the earth ones can look like a hedgehog or porcupine (except with a skull for their head). They like to dig their claws into you and swing around, bashing you with their spikes – just to cause pain. They can also shape-shift to look like men, or moles…just to be weird.
I didn’t get a description of the fire ones (called Hargin, apparently) but both of them cancel out earth- or fire-based spells in their area. Like “protection from fire” won’t work around fire hargin, so we’ll have to depend on our rings (because magic objects still work; Tres happy about that).
Lydia couldn’t find anything written about Water Grus (or she hadn’t got to that part of the book yet or something) but it seems reasonable that they would have a similar effect on water-spells…like “Airy Water.” So we’re going to have to be careful.
That said, the majority of us preferred exploring there to fighting dragons at this time. I think Mister Whisker will stay in Homlette…he won’t be much help (even though he might be a good swimmer) and he wasn’t too happy the last time we took an unexpected bath. I also took some time to hunt down a bouy – a bladder that will float – and tied it to a rope with measured markings. If we’re going to be wandering around the sea-floor, it could be helpful to know how much water is above us.
We leave tomorrow.
The return to the Air Node worked like a charm. Collected the fortress and cleared the rest of the cavern (the giants are nothing but bones now…guess whatever survives here knows how to scrounge for resources).
We spotted another group of rats in one of the caves, but none of us could speak to them (Raven still off doing his thing) so Mikael turned himself into a bat and made a circuit of the cave, just to make sure it was a dead-end. We have more important things to do than butcher rats.
Found the cave with the magic rune and stepped on it (even though Ez is still carrying the magic stone in his pouch; we thought maybe the “official” gateway would go so somewhere drier. Nope! Splosh into ten feet of water).
Ezekiel cast the Airy Water thing as soon as we arrived, so we all had no trouble climbing onto the nearby island. Granted, we don’t know for sure that it’s the same place the gem took us, but it’s a good assumption — the island’s about the same size, and there’s a dark coral ridge about the same distance away.
It’s very hard to see distances here, since the air is so humid. And once you’re underwater, of course, the light travels even less far…even though we could “breathe” down there.
We could just barely see another island to the “south-east” (what we called south-east), so we started in that direction. The islands are very strange…there’s no algae, no plants anywhere – not even gross plants that grow by star-light. It’s all bare rock and water.
The islands circle around inside a bowl-shaped “lagoon,” with a ridge of coral a few feet under the surface of the water all the way around. We saw a brown pudding floating toward us, but fortunately were able to walk around it underwater – since none of us is really good at making fire (except Heiron and his sword).
We did see something else that we killed…it looked like a person at first, but was all covered with glowing fungus and growths. Mikael told us it was “zygom” – a type of parasitic spore that takes over the system of a vertebrate, turning them into a fungus-zombie. Sounds horrifying…and also right up the Mushroom Queen’s alley.
We shot it full of arrows, and once it stopped moving Heiron torched it (being careful not to get any of the sticky ooze on his sword).
We finally made it to the northern end of the lagoon without getting anything slimy on us. We spotted something darkish off to the west…and something else moving under the water to the east.
All of us were on edge (even Ezekiel, I think) so we chose west. Mikael turned into a dolphin to scout the parts of the lagoon we hadn’t gotten to and make sure we didn’t missed anything (Ez is especially looking for underwater caves)…then he stayed that way, because otherwise he could only transform one more time today. Also I think he likes being a dolphin, even though he can only squeak and whistle in that form.
So we headed over the ridge and into the deeper water. My bouy tells us it was about fifty feet deep – and again, no algae, no seaweed, nothing that would make it look like a “real” ocean.
Sure enough, that thing we spotted in the distance was another island – still with no underwater caves (that we could find). We climbed out and were getting our bearings when the next bizarre thing happened.
A huge, rocky island started moving toward us…huge as in two or three times the size of most of the islands we’d discovered so far.
Ezekiel freaked out. He started yelling at us to “shoot it, shoot it!” so Heiron and I switched to our bows while Ezekiel jumped up and down in a panic.
When a long neck snaked out of the water to look at us, Heiron nailed it with an arrow…and a deep, vibrating voice said, “Ow! Foolish little morsel!”
The creature blew steam at us – but only Ezekiel was hurt. He staggered around a bit (while Heiron kept shooting the thing) then held up his hands and yelled for everyone to stop fighting (which was his idea to start with).
You couldn’t miss a target that big – but the back was all covered with rock-like plating or something, so I don’t think I ever hurt it. Makes sense – it was sort of like a turtle in some ways.
The giant turtle thing told us to put our weapons down. Heiron seemed confused, so he did – since Ezekiel was still waving his arms and yelling about peace (I think it was a bad day for him).
The turtle thing put his face up to Ezekiel, but I held my shot…after all, I could get him in the eye if he bit off Ez’s head, and Father Yra could still put Ezekiel back together, right?
Ezekiel healed the giant turtle’s arrow wounds, and that really seemed to mollify him. At least it got him to talk to us, rather than breathing more hot steam.
Ezekiel started by apologizing for attacking him, since everything we’d met previously wanted to eat us.
The turtle (Ez called him a Dragon-Turtle, I guess because of the breath), said, yes, things like the Ixxixaktl would be like that – but he’s eaten some of them, and they’re smart enough to not bother him or his partner…that he is king of this place.
So then Wonillon softened the situation further by offering him a pouch of gold coins (I think the turtle ate it?) and Heiron and Ezekiel said they were sorry for hurting him (I never did any damage), since naturally they saw his greatness, and were afraid.
That got the turtle in a good enough mood, that Ez told him we seek a gem that radiates magic.
The turtle said there are many gems hoarded around here, but he doesn’t know about our magic.
So Ezekiel gave him one of the potions of extra healing (guess he wants to secure his usefulness; after all, the turtle said his “touch” felt better) and asked permission to search “his pool” for the gem.
The turtle said, all right, as long as we mind our manners.
Ez asked about where to find the Ixxixaktl (also called “demon-rays”) — some swim to the east, and others to the far south.
He also asked about more of “our kind,” and we got a lead on some people to rescue to the south-west – and some creatures “not too dissimilar” to us to the south-east.
The dragon-turtle finally launched himself off into the water, after warning us not to be “rude” again (I should tell Lydia Ezekiel was “rude”) and we headed south, to find more people to rescue.
Mikael was still a dolphin (I think he suffered while the encounter was going on and he couldn’t talk to anybody), and he swam down to alert us when he spotted something on a nearby island. He bounced on his tail and squeaked answers to yes-no questions, and we figured out that there were people nearby.
So we climbed up the rock. Sure enough, about six men in rags and armor huddled on the far side of the island from us. They bounced an arrow off my helmet, but I wasn’t really worried about types like this…not after staring down a dragon-turtle.
Ezekiel told them we didn’t want to kill them, and set up the fortress (that’s always good for impressing crowds) and invited them all inside.
Mikael jumped up onto the shore, but I guess he didn’t time his transformation right, and kinda stumbled onto the rocks. Still pretty impressive, though.
Ez handed out minor healing, and I got rations together for them (since Raven wasn’t there). We eventually got them to chat – or at least, the primary spokesman, who said his name was Gronk. Turns out he’s a lesser cleric of some northern deity, so his healing and his “resist” spells helped the men survive…though even then, the nodes are a brutal place, and he says they lost over a dozen. Makes me regret the three days we had to be inactive because of Ezekiel’s illness.
Gronk says they used to be part of a larger band that went to the Temple for treasure…they must have gotten deep enough to find the room with the triangle on the floor, and they jumped on the rune to escape from some etins.
We drew the circle, and Lydia finally stuck her head through – then told us to wait while she got someone to escort the prisoners away.
Ezekiel showed them how to step through the space – and once the leader followed, they all did. Ez stayed on the other side a long time – he said he was talking to Gronk a little bit about cleric stuff, and to Lydia about strategy stuff…but we all know what to tease him about.
He says the demon-rays serve one of the Princes of Demons, and some of them have cleric powers. He also seems eager to fight them, since he assumes they’ll have the next bead for our necklace.
[written in Lawful Good]
- If Falrinth had the magic mirror, which is what we’re using to safely travel between the nodes, does that mean he was in charge of node-travel? Problem: the mirror was hidden in the wardrobe when we found it, and Falrinth served the Spider-Queen, not the ‘Shroom Lady…so was his loyalty divided? (He was also the keeper of the Gold Skull, but we don’t know how aware the Temple leadership was of that.)
- Did the Temple leadership have another way of traveling the nodes? We know they had the black scarabs for safely passing the fungal curtain…but do they have other uses? None of us know enough about this kind of technology to figure that out – without just trying it. Ez theorizes he could try using a scarab on one of the portal-runes to travel back to the Temple…
- Maybe the Temple wasn’t messing with the nodes at all – except to feed them people?! We’ve been told the nodes “give power to” the Mushroom Queen…but we’re not sure how. And it’s possible the priests and cultists were perfectly happy to run their little Temple, and not deal with their Goddess actually playing a role… After all, Druid Kela told us the communication was “unclear” or incomplete. The key must be completed for Her to emerge and be free – or for Her to be reached and finally killed. I can see Evil cultists not hurrying about completing that mission…
Read the next entry here.
Find the previous entry here.