Once we’d caught our breath, we went back to further explore the laboratory. Alimar and Kothal investigated a shelf of moldering books while I checked out the lab table. It was covered in glassware and other laboratory equipment, but most of it was broken or otherwise in disarray. Above the bench was a shelf holding ingredients and reagents, but most of the jars were broken or empty, and none looked to be the sorrow moss we sought.
The bookworms didn’t have much better luck, except at finding actual bookworms. The tomes were rotted and decrepit, and fell apart at their touch. Most of the tomes looked to be on necromancy, alchemy and anatomy. Nothing sinister there.
Kothal took a closer look at the rat cages, and asked me to spring the locks so he could examine the rats within. As I did, I noticed the maker’s mark of a mechanical shop in Durnholde, Pug’s Contraptions, on each of the cages.
Kothal examined the dead rats and pronounced they’d expired from some sort of fungal infection, and that they appeared to be in various states of the disease. Probably not a good way to go, even for a rat.
Phaedra and Norkel were watching the door while Andren continued his rogue apprenticeship by finding a ‘secret’ door that wasn’t hidden. It opened to a short hallway and another door, which led further down another corridor and ended in a chamber where someone had been doing some digging.
Several picks lay scattered around a large hole in the floor. Crude steps were cut into the rock, leading downward. Andren stopped and stared unseeing at the hole for several moments. When his sister asked what he saw, his only reply was, “Hands… dead hands… reaching up for us…” Again, nothing creepy about that.
We followed Andren down the stairs and ended up in a limestone cavern. It was damp and moldy, with rubble and bones strewn across the floor. A tunnel stretched away to the north, and another to the south. The southernmost tunnel looked freshly excavated, so we followed it to a cave heavy with the stench of rotted meat. Around the cave we saw piles of carcasses, animal and human.
The cave was tall but not large, and a slight wind blew through it, issuing from another tunnel on the far side. Andren crept forward to scout and then quickly ducked back as a giant bat came swooping in!
The bat was enormous, its wingspan probably all of nine feet. As he charged it, Andren noticed patches of fur and skin missing from its wings. It was also missing an eye, and the creature’s head lolled to the side as if its neck was broken. A giant, undead bat!
Andren cast sacred flame at it while Norkel summoned his great balls of fire. Behind us, Alimar heard something approaching from the tunnel behind us, and seconds later several ghouls appeared and advanced on us. Alimar, ever gallant, hid behind Phaedra.
Not a bad plan, actually. I stepped out to fire a crossbow round at the lead ghoul, then stepped back behind Phaedra as well. The paladin cast a Shield of Faith on herself, and advanced to meet the charge. She swung at the closest creature and lopped off its arm like butter.
Behind us, the bat wheeled in the narrow cavern and swooped back at Andren. The cleric’s own Shield of Faith did him little good as the creature latched on and sank its fangs into him. Kothal blasted the creature off Andren and Norkel quickly cast a healing spell. Kothal again hurled an eldritch blast at the bat, killing it.
Alimar snapped off a bow shot, killing the first ghoul. The remaining creature leapt at Phaedra, but she managed to push it away. Norkel ran past Alimar and me, throwing a ball of flame at the creature. Alimar and I shot it again, and Phaedra used our distraction to cleave the creature nearly in two.
Norkel searched the bodies in the cave to find an adamantine longsword, a ring and a hat. The hat was a type favored by forest hunters, and Norkel quite fancied it. I looked over the ghoul carcasses, but didn’t get any information from them.
We decided to continue on through the tunnel where the bat had emerged. I took the lead to try and scout, but Andren and Kothal came clanking along behind me, so I just let them go ahead. We noticed scrapes on the wall, perhaps some sort of territorial marking? There was also a large quantity of yellow mold along the walls and floor of the tunnel.
Andren investigated the fungus by smacking it with his mace. A cloud of spores shot out and he ducked away, barely avoiding breathing them in. Norkel stepped over and gave them a more thorough examination. The druid declared it a simple yellow mold, but advised us against spending too much time in its presence or breathing the spores.
Hesitant to have this obstacle at our back, Phaedra set about burning away the mold, assisted by Norkel. Andren pushed past to investigate the next chamber. He saw more piles of bones and heard the sound of running water. Common sense got the best of him, and he returned to wait for the rest of the party.
Once the mold was burned away, a small side passage was revealed. We followed it to reveal that it simply looped back to where we entered the cavern, but Andren did find a pick in remarkable good condition. Kothal identified it as a magical heavy pick +1.
We backtracked to the chamber where Andren heard running water. As we approached, we heard groaning and grunting noises coming from within; more of the ghouls were coming. Kothal edged forward until he saw one of the creatures, and hit it with a blast of eldritch energy. Phaedra pushed past him to enter the room and saw several more of the creatures. Andren followed his sister and cast turn undead, causing many of the ghouls to turn and flee.
Alimar shot one of the remaining ghouls and I followed with my rapier, dropping the fetid thing. Behind us I heard Kothal and Norkel enter. The western half of the chamber was heaped with bones, many scarred by teethmarks or cracked open for their marrow. A second doorway lead to the rushing water we heard earlier. Beyond the doorway the floor of the chamber dropped about ten feet to a ledge about twelve feet wide, then dropped again to a pool of water.
Phaedra stepped up to the doorway and realized the ledges were actually a continuous spiral that wound its way around the circumference of the chamber and led down to the pool. At the far end of the cavern she saw the turned ghouls cowering together, staying as far away from Andren as they could. Around the chamber were several more ghouls, unaffected by the turning.
Andren followed his sister in and sacred flamed the closest creature. It turned on him, lunging forward. Its bite not only damaged the cleric but paralyzed him as well. Alimar shot the ghoul twice in quick succession, killing it as Norkel hopped down onto the stone ledge and cast a restoration spell on Andren, removing the paralyzation.
I stepped in and got my first view of the entire chamber. Torrents of seawater seeped in, rushing down the far side of the chamber to splash onto the rocks in the pool below. Near this waterfall the turned ghouls cowered. What looked like a doorway recessed into the rock face was covered by a rusted grate.
In front of me Phaedra surveyed the room, deciding what to do, when two ghasts leapt from the water like giant frogs. They were bloated and smelly, clearly undead. One jumped up to attack Andren, biting and clawing. The other mounted the ledge near Alimar, raking its claws across the fighter. By the way he staggered, I could tell Alimar had been poisoned. Norkel and I ran over to support him, the druid’s scimitar leading the way as it sliced the ghast across the midsection. The stench of the creatures at close range was nearly overpowering. The ghast rallied and laid into Alimar with its claws and bite, dropping the fighter like a sack of stones.
Kothal backed up the draenei, scorching the ghast with a blast of eldritch energy as Andren followed up with his mace to the face. The creature reeled, and Kothal hit it with another eldritch blast. Andren was able to get Alimar back on his feet as I jammed my rapier into the ghast’s eye. That move is so much more effective when the target isn’t already dead. I retreated back into the shadows to await another chance to strike.
We were slowly wearing the ghasts down; it seemed only a matter of time before we prevailed. The squeal of a rusty gate preceded the appearance of a crusty, disheveled human in rags at the back of the chamber. He seemed to move to music only he could hear, twirling and swaying, heedless of the slick stone and rushing waters. He exhorted the cowering ghouls to rejoin the fight, and to our dismay they obeyed.
The ghasts too seemed re-energized by the mysterious creature’s appearance. One laid into Phaedra, staggering the paladin and driving her back. The other poisoned Kothal with its talons before its bite paralyzed the warlock. Alimar stabbed the ghast twice, but it refused to fall.
Norkel healed Phaedra as Andren tended to Kothal. The ghast again raked its claws over the cleric before the ghouls fell upon him, ripping at his throat as he fell. Alimar slashed at the ghast as I ran it through with the rapier, then tried to get the ghouls off of Andren’s body. Norkel and Kothal kept the remaining ghast occupied as Phaedra disengaged and ran to aid her fallen brother.
The figure on the opposite side of the chamber continued to dance around like a simpleton. Seeing an opportunity, I pulled up the hood of my cloak and began to creep through the shadows around the chamber towards him.
Norkel’s scimitar kept the ghouls at bay as Phaedra laid hands upon Andren. The cleric stirred weakly, then staggered to his feet and healed himself further. Alimar stabbed another ghoul twice, dropping it.
As I approached, I could see that the figure I pursued was that of an old human man. He seemed unaware of my presence, but continued to caper away from me and now had drawn a rusty scimitar which he whirled around his head. I crept closer, closer still, then made my move. As I rushed from the shadows two things became apparent. One, the old man was clearly long dead, just like everything else in this vile mansion. And B, his stench was far worse than even the bloated ghasts. I choked and coughed as I swung my blade, but the scimitar was there to block it even though the man hadn’t turned. He spun and slashed me with his blade, foiling my follow-up strike. I’d lost my advantage and quickly retreated, but slipped on the slick floor and tumbled off the ledge to the rocks and water below.
I pulled myself out of the water and clung to a mossy stone. I could see my comrades fighting the last of the ghouls as the old man leisurely made his way towards them. I tried to shout a warning, but it didn’t carry over the rushing water. Norkel and Kothal teamed up to take down the last ghoul as Andren healed the party. Phaedra took notice of the old man’s approach. Alimar stepped up to block his path, and the man slashed with his scimitar then attempted to bite the fighter.
Alimar tried to barbecue him with burning hands, but the undead creature seemed to resist the worst of the flames. I pulled my crossbow and drew an unsteady bead, but my shot flew wide and hit Alimar. I put the bow away and clung miserably to my rock.
Norkel circled the pit and tried to thornwhip the man, but missed. Kothal followed, trying the same thing, and was successful. The whip snagged the man’s ankles, and with a sharp tug Kothal sent him flying off the ledge. The man fell upon the rocks in the water just as I had. He was now twenty feet from me and began to swim closer.
From above, Andren healed Alimar and me. The man swam closer and missed me with a lazy sword swing. He croaked, “I left something for you, yessss. You. They told me to leave it for you…”
I cursed him but missed my bow shot again. I think I may have been concussed from the fall. Kothal hit him with another eldritch blast, but he seemed not to notice. He swam even closer, then cut off his hand with his sword! Inky black ichor flowed from the wound, forming a slick poisonous pool on the surface of the water. He laughed and taunted me as I struggled unsuccessfully to climb out.
A rope landed near me. I look up to see Norkel holding the other end, motioning for me to climb up. I tried, but I was too wounded and weak. The old man swam closer and I frantically kicked him in the face. He slid beneath the surface without a sound. Norkel yelled for me to tie the rope around my waist. I did, and as he and Phaedra began to pull me out, the old man burst from the water, grabbing at my feet. The rest of the party was ready; Alimar’s force missile and Kothal’s eldritch blast struck the creature square in the chest, ending him. The weasel Andren hurled landed on the ledge beside the pool, looking confused as the others hauled me up and out.