An Unpleasant Surprise
Looking down the stair I could see only darkness. I opened up the shutters on my lantern a little further and pointed it to my left and my right. The beam of light illuminated a rough stone stair descending to a natural looking cave.
“Do we want to descend here? Or try somewhere else”, Mukah asked.
Talrek said, “I expect all of the stairs down lead to the same area. Let’s descend here.”
Mukah nodded and walking quickly down the steps motioning for the rest of us to stay back and give him a little bit of a lead. After a few steps, I could barely see Mukah. But he must have motioned us forward because he was soon followed by Talrek and Alcor. I glanced at Thyrell standing still in the hall with Tinda. The Drow waved me on. Stepping gingerly, I made my way down the stair. The walls of the cavern glistened with moisture. The cave did look natural with only a few signs that it was worked by hands.
To my left, the cave extended into darkness. To my right was a pile of rubble amongst stalagmites. A small passage wound around it. Mukah and Alcor were already picking their way through the rubble to the passage. Talrek glanced at the stonework, seemed satisfied with something and moved to follow the other two. Looking at the passage I realized it would be a tight fit for me. It was probably a dead end anyway. Time for a snack. I reached into a pocket in my robe and withdrew some ham, cheese and dried out bread. Tearing off a piece of bread I jammed the bread meat and cheese in my mouth and chewed savoring the flavor. If only I still had some wine.
“Rats!” I heard Mukah yell. Immediately I assumed the half-orc had tripped another trap. But mere moments later I heard yelling and grunting from Alcor and Mukah and the sound of swords and spears striking squeaking rats.
“Just some rats, can you handle it?” I shouted.
I shifted my bulk and strained to hear the commotion. If it was just rats I was sure the three could handle it. I glanced at Thyrell. The Drow was beginning to move toward the passage. But then he stopped realizing that would leave me to protect our rear. Just then I heard the squeaking of a number of rats coming from the darkness to my left.
“Thyrell”, I hissed, motioning for him to wait.
I began thinking about the details of my sleep spell. Quickly, and silently a number of giant rats raced out of the darkness toward the stair. But then turned, seeing me and raced toward me. The details of my sleep spell vanished from my mind. Tinda let out a bloodcurdling growl and one of the rats coming toward me turned in a circle seemingly chasing its tail as if unsure of whether to attack or flee.
“Manibus stuppea Flamma!” I shouted and flames quickly burst from my fingers, engulfed my hands and then poured outward in a cone of flames. I swept my hands from left to right over the enormous rats bending the flames to my will so that they parted around Tinda and Thyrell. In a moment the magic was gone and the flames with it. But I could see that two of the rats were engulfed in flames and no longer moving. To my left, I heard Thyrell’s bowstring sang, an arrow flew past and sunk into a giant rat killing it. I could hear Thyrell drawing one of his swords as the rats drew closer to us. Three rats lunged at my waist, I twisted out of the way as best I could but I felt sharp teeth piercing my thigh. Looking down I could see blood staining a tear in my robe.
“Telum magicum ignis!”
As I spoke the magic words and finished the hand gestures, three bolts of magic flew from my hands striking two of the giant rats. The rats screeched but kept attacking. By now I started to edge back toward the stair. Thyrell and his wolf Tinda were drawing the giant rats off to my left, I could see blood streaming from Thyrell’s leg and Tinda’s mid-section. Talrek the dwarf appeared on my right swinging his hammer at the rats. A final giant rat turned to run toward the stair and I pulled out one of my daggers and hurled it at the fleeing rat. The dagger tumbled clumsily end over end and incredibly struck the rat sinking into its neck. The rat staggered a few feet and collapsed dead. Call me Rat Slayer I thought and silently laughed. The first time I used that dagger since buying it months ago.
Mukah and Alcor came back into the chamber from the passage. Both sporting several bite marks and open wounds.
“Okay, everyone come together”, Talrek motioned us to the center of the cave. The dwarf got down on one knee and chanted a prayer to his god for a few minutes. A golden light began to emanate from his hands spreading outward. As it reached me I felt the exhaustion lift and the pain from my wounds recede. Looking down at my thigh I could see that the rat bite wound was completely healed. Mukah, who had taken the most bites, looked much better as well.
“Thanks, Talrek”, Alcor said. We all nodded in respect to the cleric. Thyrell still looked a little worse for wear. He reached into his pack and removed a clay jar that I realized was one of the healing salves we found in Winterdon. As Thyrell spread the salve on the rat bites on his leg, Mukah poked about in the rubble.
“See nuthin” Mukah grunted.
“Say, guys. Did it seem like those rats were running from something?” Thyrell asked. Talrek nodded. “Let’s keep alert for something worse.”
I wandered over to the piles of rubble to the south. I could see the rat tracks came through the rubble. Looking up I could see a path through the rubble.
“I think we go this way”, I said.
“Do we not want to continue to the west?” Talrek said.
“Let’s check here first”, I said. Mukah nodded and began climbing through the loose stones and debris. I followed. There was actually a path of sorts. Past the stone debris the cave opened up again with a passage to the left and a cave to the right. I played my lantern light around as Alcor, Talrek, Thyrell, and Tinda followed us into the cave.
Mukah advanced to the south, paused and then jumped back. Instantly I was on guard.
“What is it?” Talrek hissed.
“The ground is spongy here”, Mukah said loudly in a puzzled tone of voice. “Well don’t stand on it,” I said. “Take my staff”.
I handed my quarterstaff to the large half-orc. Mukah looked at it holding it in one hand like he did not know what to do with it. Then he began tapping the stone area of the floor south of us near the west wall of the cave. The staff strangely did not produce a tapping noise. It did not sink in but the cave floor gave slightly under its push.
Talrek moved up and looked intently at the stone floor. “I never…”, said the bemused dwarf. “I mean I don’t know what could cause this.” Talrek glanced up. “But I can see the outline of a door in the wall here”. Talrek pointed at the cave wall behind the door.
“Is there any way to open it”, said Thryell.
Talrek looked at the door some more. “There is a stone protruding here, I think it will open the door”.
“Can we get to the door without stepping on the spongy area?” I asked.
Talrek shook his head.
“Mukah uses the staff to strike the stone,” Talrek said.
Mukah took the staff, stretched over the suspicious are of stone floor and struck the protruding rock. The rock moved down, there was a clicking noise and the outline of a door became more visible. Then the half-orc pushed against the door with the staff. The stone wall slowly pivoted inward.
Suddenly, the opening flung open. Mukah dropped my quarter-staff in surprise. Blocking the entire doorway was a glistening mass of flesh, easily ten-foot-wide and six foot tall. As I watched in horror, I could see dozens of eyes and mouths on the surface of the mass of flesh. Protrusions waved about from the mass like tentacles, the eyes appeared to be aware and moved from side to side while the mouths were full of sharp teeth.
We all stepped back in horror and then the mouths began to sing, chatter, scream and shout filling the cave with noise but I felt like the voices were directly in my head. One protrusion shot out at Alcor and missed. A mouth opened and spit yellow liquid at me. I ducked to the side and the spittle passed over me and hit the cave wall.
The voices grew louder in my head, I could see Mukah and Thyrell fighting the same voices in their heads with less success. Mukah appeared frozen in horror, while Thyrell fired an arrow wildly, narrowing missing a yowling Tinda. As I watched Thyrell dropped his bow in horror.
Only Alcor managed to act. The tiefling monk struck at the mass with his spear and followed up with a kick. The mass of flesh, eyes, and teeth recoiled and a mouth came to the surface of the flesh opened and spit a spray of liquid in the faces of Mukah and Alcor.
“I’m blinded,” Alcor cried out.
“Manibus stuppea Flamma!”, I cried out and flames roared from my hands engulfing the horrifying blob. The flesh blackened, and flaked off, eyes exploded and mouths screamed in agony. Talrek also broke free of the horror and chanted out to his god. A bolt of blazing light crashed down into the creature. Still blinded Mukah swung widely at the creature and missed.
Alcor slashed at the creature with his spear. A long gash opened up in the creature’s mass. Stepping forward, Alcor reached into the gash, yanked and came out with some sort of organ that he held up and crushed in his hand with a sickening squelch. The creature’s mouths cried out in unison. The mass slowly fell to the cave floor and as I watched it began to dissolve and disappear before my eyes.
Thyrell cried out in relief, followed by Mukah and myself, while Talrek handed Alcor a rag to wipe the slime off of his hand.
Thyrell moved over to pick up his bow and Talrek checked into the room the creature was guarding. Sighing I leaned over and looked at the dissolving remains on the floor. Clearly a creature of magic and now it was returning to the aether. Interesting and horrifying.
I stepped over the remains and joined Talrek in a small cave. There was a bowl-shaped depression in the cave floor, presumably where the creature was resting. Near the wall, I just made out an area of earth that was disturbed. Stepping over I could see an area about 2 feet square that had been dug up at some point in the past.
“There might be something here!” I said excitedly and waved the rest over.
|The Gibbering Mouther|
Mukah picked up my quarterstaff and prodded at the dirt. There was a distinct thudding noise of wood on metal. Bending over, Mukah brushed the dirt away to reveal a metal strongbox, corroded and old looking. The half-orc grasped the box tightly and pulled it from the earth.
We all took a step back and looked it over. Talrek bent down and looked it over carefully. “It does not look like there are locks or traps”. “Oto?”
I examined the box from a safe distance and then nodded that it looked safe. Talrek steeled himself and tentatively flipped the lid open. Inside I could see a half dozen small stone figures. They looked finely crafted.
“These are worth a fair bit in the right market”, Talrek said as he picked up one of the figures. “Don’t know what they are, or how old they are.”
I barely heard him. Nestled in the bottom of the box was a long, slender, scroll tube. Could it be? Talrek glanced at me, smiled, then picked up the scroll tube and handed it to me. “This is probably best for you.”
Eagerly I turned the tube over in my hands. I could see ancient yellowed parchment rolled up inside. Slipping it out I could see arcane symbols and letters on the parchment. But it was incredibly old, I could barely make out recognizable symbols.
“It's ancient. And it's a magic spell!” I said. “A powerful one!” I carefully returned the parchment to the scroll case. This was going to require some study.
“And look, there is a potion in the box as well!” Talrek held up a glass vial full of red liquid. He peered at it intently opened it and sniffed it. “I believe this is a potion of healing.”
I looked about at the ragged crew. I was almost out of magic. Mukah was covered in small bites, Thyrell and Alcor looked exhausted.
Talrek spoke before I could, “Time for a rest I think”.
This week we had almost a full crew, just down one. Strangely that one character was the key person in our fight with the Gibbering Mouther. Things might have gone very badly if Alcor Fenn had not passed all his saving throws.
The giant rats actually took as long to fight as the gibbering mouther and did more damage. Their group tactics were quite formidable.