The party approached the cave mouth cautiously and Aieglos keen ears detected the sound of low growls and whimpers drifting from the darkened entrance. Something was alive in there.
Mock crouched low and stealthily approached the rocky aperture, smelling the animal scent of fur and dung as he closed the distance. Peering into the entrance, he found himself staring down a large gray timber wolf who greeted the half-orc with a throaty growl. In the gloom beyond the beast, at least two more animals padded about.
The barbarian retreated from the cave, drawing two of the wolves out. Arrows were launched and Ozwald sent a magic missile streaking at the largest beast. One fell, but the second snapped at Mock, fastening its jaws on his thigh and worrying the leg down to the bone. Blood began to pool on the rocky trail. Striving to push the wolf back into its den to allow the rest of the party to join the fight, Mock just couldn’t muscle past the heavy wolf. His vision swam as blood continued to pour out his leg andm as Dardath moved up to reinforce him, Mock collapsed unconscious from blood loss. Dardath dropped the wolf with his axe as it turned its attention towards him.
With the way clear, Dardath, backed by Rondo Fleagle, advanced up the path to take on the remainder of the wolves. Charging into the cave, Rondo’s infravision detected two more of the animals and combat was joined. As the rest of the party streamed into the rocky grotto behind them, Rondo took slight injuries before Dardath’s axe and Raijek’s fists dropped the remaining beasts.
Collecting themselves in the cave, a brief prayer to Mog revived Mock, but failed to cure him of his most grievous injuries. Even a healthy draught of wine failed to restore his spirits, leaving the party without the services of its regular front line combatant. As Mock bound his wounds, the rest of the party explored the cavern. Rondo’s eyes caught a temperature fluctuation in the western corner of the room, while Ozwald noticed a carved humanoid figure poised atop a natural ledge.
Moving toward the far end of the cave, the party discovered that the carved figure was a statue depicting a human-like figure whose body was composed entirely of centipedes, worms, snails, and other loathsome things. On the outcrop beneath it was carved the following:
“The nethermost caverns are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Great holes secretly are digged where R’Nis’ pores will not suffice; and riches and wonders offered unto things that learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”
The temperature displacement was caused by warm air rising from a narrow shaft set in the floor besides the statue. Handholds had been chiseled into its sides and a dropped torch revealed a small cave some twenty feet below. With the hint of treasure to be found, the party descended, leaving Dardath and Kaldar behind to guard their escape should they need to flee the area quickly and to ward off any more wolves that might return to the den.
The party found themselves in a moist series of caves, the scent of living things drifting in the air. A short stretch of tunnel brought them to a crossroads which split in several different directions: one tunnel heading up, another two descending. Taking the upward-slanting tunnel, the party found it dead-ended in a small cave. Dripping stalactites caused two pools to form on the floor beneath them. One was clear albeit tinged green. The other was a milky blue-white color and opaque to the eye.
The clear pool contained nothing, but the milky one held a mineral-encrusted coffer buried in its muddy bottom. Mars Markus pried open the container to find what appeared to have been a stone square broken into seven pieces. With the surface of each piece defaced, it took some doing to reassemble the pieces in their proper positions, but the spider cleric was able to do so after some trial and error. Unfortunately, nothing happened once they were back in position. After carefully diagramming the pieces’ proper order for quick reassembly, the party returned to the crossroads.
One branch ended in a dead end, but the other lead to a pair of rooms with worked stone surfaces. A growth of four-foot tall mushrooms crowded around a large puddle in one room and the fungus actually seemed to shuffle away from the party’s torches when they entered the area. Giving the growths a wide berth, the party passed through the room without incident and found a small living quarters beyond.
This dilapidated chamber held moldy, spongy cots and tables, under one of which was a wooden chest with rusty lock. Carefully breaking open the mechanism, Mock discovered three earthenware jars sealed with wax and a glass vial of grey liquid. Writing in Anatic hieroglyphics on the wax revealed the jars contained a healing salve which Mock, along with recently wounded Raijek and Aieglos, took advantage of.
The northern wall of the room held a formidable stone door, its surface covered in intricate carvings of bugs, snails, worms, and other low things. A perfect 4” square depression interrupted the carvings and the party instantly seized on the idea of placing the reassembled seal into that place. The sound of hidden bolts sliding open was heard and the door swung inwards.
The small chamber beyond was a crypt. A shroud wrapped body lay atop a stone bier and the surfaces of the room were covered in more bug carvings. On the wall above the body was a symbol depicting a two-headed cockroach encircled by a worm Ouroboros. The glint of metal was seen beneath the shroud wrappings, causing Mock to step towards the inert body—but its motionless state suddenly changed as the corpse rose to its feet. Its shroud shifted as it stood, revealing a horrifically rotted race teaming with noisome grubs with tooth-lined maws.
Arrows flew at the animated corpse and Mars’ divine power was enough to cow the creature into submission. This allowed the party to assembled themselves in proper formation before falling upon the rotting thing with weapons and oil flying. One of Raijek’s punches split the thing’s rotting flesh and the monk grimaced in horror when he pulled back his hand to find one of the fat toothed grubs burrowing into his flesh. When the creature struck at Mock, the barbarian found two of the things digging their way into his brawny chest. Foul, foul thing! Luckily, Ozwald’s torch turned the corpse into a bonfire when it touched the oil soaked body and the creature quickly burned down to ash taking its payload of rot grubs with it.
After tending to the barbarian's and monk's unwanted infestations, sifting through the ashes revealed a chainmail shirt that fit Aieglos like a glove when the elf put it one, and a beetle-topped rod. Assumptions where made regarding possible enchantments on both items and the party bore these away with high spirits.
One last tunnel from the crossroads remained so the party plunged deeper into the cave complex. After a brief but casualty-free encounter with a patch of green slime on the tunnel ceiling and a prolonged effort to cross a rapid but deep stream, the party eventually found themselves entering a cathedral cave whose ceiling was lost in the gloom above.
Thick growths of toadstool filled the loam-floored cavern, growing in such density that it was difficult to see more than ten feet into the purple-pink groves. A narrow pathway wound through the fungus forest and alternating glowing puffballs lined the trail to provide illumination. When one of the cantaloupe-sized fungi was plucked by Mock, it spewed its spores and its phosphorescent properties disappeared. Aieglos fired a flaming arrow aloft to better determine the height of the ceiling and, as the flare fell to earth, his keen eyes caught sight of something dog-sized skittering along one of the walls.
With eyes alert and weapons ready, the party moved down the path. Before they had gotten too far, however, the fungus groves parted and the first of several waves of large bugs emerged with mandibles clacking and wings creating an unsettling susurrus. The bugs closed with the party and combat was joined.
As each wave was defeated, another crawled out of the surrounding fungus groves, but the party held their ground. The close quarters made missile combat difficult (although it was attempted and resulted in Lace’s arrow getting lodged in Raijek’s shoulder) but the party successfully put down each group of insects as they streamed towards them. Minor injuries were sustained before the last bug leaped away and the party pushed on through and out of the overgrown grotto.
The party paused here to bind wounds and catch their breaths. As they recouped, Aieglos and Mock caught sight of a pallid glow coming from around a bend in the passage and it was in this direction that the party headed once wounds were dressed and wine consumed.
Around the corner lay another large cathedral cavern. Its rocky floor held several large boulders and a natural ledge rose along one wall to stand fifteen feet above the stalagmite-studded ground. A small pool lay at the far side of the cave and a pale blue light rose from its waters to cast a weak illumination into the gloomy cavern. Another, larger worm-human statue stood in the center of the pool.
While the rest of the party waited near the entrance, Ozwald and Mock crept towards the pool to investigate. They had just about reached its edge when they caught movement out of the corner of their eye. Much to their surprise (and to the rest of the party’s), one of the “boulders” was not a rock at all. Instead, it was the massive grey-black shell of an immense snail!
As the beast lurched towards them, Ozwald and Mock were close enough to see the strange markings on the mollusk’s shell: a stylized Death’s head similar to that found in certain rare species of moths. This one none other than a bale snail, feared only slightly less than its distant cousin, the flail snail!
The creature soon lived up to its reputation as its massive bulk surged forwards towards Ozwald and Mock. Caught flatfooted and slack jawed, the duo could only watch dumbfounded as the mollusk pinned the magic-user beneath its massive, slimy bulk, crushing the rotund spell-caster under it titanic weight. Recovering from the shock, the party launched a hail of missiles at the foul thing while Mock, seeking the best vantage point to combat the thing, began to scale the creature’s shell. With its closest target out of the reach of its rasp-like gums, the bale snail spat a gob of acidic mucus at the party, splattering the wall behind Mars Markus and setting the stone a-sizzling. Mock continued to hack away at the snail while the party launched another volley at the mollusk. Turning its bulk in the party’s direction, the bale snail strove to close the distance and devour the intruders. Alas, the continue hail of missiles combined with the creatures slow pace resulted it its demise before it got within reach of the adventuring band.
With its guardian defeated, the party turned their attentions towards the glowing pool. In its depths lay the skeletal remains of several long-dead humans. Amongst the rusty armor and rotten clothing was spied a steel coffer and a rust-free sword. Both of these items were recovered from the pool's bottom and inspected. If the sword’s condition was not enough of a sign that it was something special, the arcane symbols on both sides of the blade were. Mock claimed ownership of the longsword for the moment.
The coffer was easily opened and found to contain twenty foot-long cylinders of blue-green metal. A bone scroll tube lay atop the mysterious rods. Opening the case revealed that it had leaked and partially ruined some of the wording of the scroll, but not enough to obscure the fact that it was (and might still be) a protection scroll against vermin.
One last “idiot check” of the cave failed to turn up any other secrets, threats, or loot, and the party, happy at their haul but laden with the crushed body of Ozwald, headed back towards the surface. Back at the wolf cave, they collected Dardath and Kaldar before returning to Blackpool to try and unravel some of the secrets they had discovered this day…