6.1. The Skin of Another

6.1. The Skin of Another

The Mission

Welcome back, Agents…or should I say, Field Agents? Well done on your promotions; I should think you earned them, with how you expertly weaved your way through the intricacies at Songhal. Now we must ready ourselves for our newest mission: a foray into the forests of Yuirwood.

Aglarond, a nearby nation to the southeast across the Sea, has a long and varied history involving ancient elves and modern humans. The Yuirwood, a temperate forest within its borders, is no exception. You’re free to research more on your own time, of course, but what is most pertinent to us is this fact. (Let me see, where did I write those notes…ah yes, here they are.)

“The Yuirwood is infused with both ancient and new magic. Notably, the mixture of magic within the Yuirwood renders the forest impenetrable to scrying and divination magic, with any attempt to do so revealing only the woods themselves.”

As you can guess, this makes much of our long-distance scrying useless for learning about the dungeon we seek. (It also demonstrates why Granny Gertrude’s unique abilities have been so useful for the Order.)

An elven scout of ours traveled to the location indicated by the hag, drawing this sketch of what he found. Under our orders, he neither entered nor approached the area, simply reporting back what he discovered.

There are no settlements in the immediate vicinity, and it is well off the beaten path. The fauna and flora both are as one would expect for the location. The place seems untouched and, otherwise, unremarkable.

I understand that it’s a little hard to prepare for a location we know so little about. I’d suggest starting with basic dungeoneering and mining equipment, and then stocking up on options to help you in combat. (Unlike Songhal, I don’t expect you’ll be meeting many new faces here.)

While I don’t know what dangers you’ll face, I suspect they’ll be more than simple forest creatures that have gone astray. Abandoned temples are usually rife with residual dangers from when they were active.

I’ll be here if you have any further questions or concerns. To Light and Truth!

–Inspector Felkar “The Flummoxer”

Mission Parameters:
Character Level: 6
Stated Mission: Locate the occultist key that Granny Gertrude sensed was within this forgotten temple.
Equipment: Standard rules for a Requisition Note: 5,500 gp worth of gear (as per “Sane Magical Prices” list), including up to 1/3 value in consumables (1,900 gp).
Special: Remote-sensing spells of the school of Divination will not function properly while on this mission (including but not necessarily limited to: Locate Animals or Plants, Locate Object, Clairvoyance, Locate Creature, Commune with Nature, Scrying, Find the Path).

A. Welcome to the Dungeon

Session Date: May 4th, 2020
Dale Reckoning:
 1523 DR (Year of the Brownie’s Delight), 3 Mirtul (3rd of the Melting)

i. Downtime

Nearly three months had passed since the agents’ work in Songhal. In addition to their promotion, they attended specialized training and learned how to shoulder the responsibility that came with higher ranks.

Gorodash was still paying for Julia’s education via his Requisition Notes, and he made sure to check in on his charge at least once a month. The assigned tutor, a Miss Moongrace, instructed Julia six afternoons each tenday. She seemed prim, proper, and efficient; and she might have even been a teacher once at Ilmater’s Home for Dispossessed Children, the well-to-do orphanage Gorodash had originally considered.

However, Gorodash couldn’t help but notice that Julia’s special treatment was setting her apart from the other boys and girls at Wings of Mercy Homestead. As a result, she only had two friends, though they seemed close. Gorodash also overheard a few of the children joking that Julia was “ugly, just like her orc dad,” and he considered how to handle the situation in the future.

Charli decided to make a few contacts within the Lyrabar police force. He was able to make the acquaintance of a fresh lieutenant in the city watch, with whom he shared stories of his exploits in Westgate. From this, Charli was able to get a sense of how law and order functioned in the capital of Impiltur, and compare and contrast it with the more…nuanced structure he’d experienced in Westgate.

Alexis, not forgetting the family he’d left behind, crafted several letters. With them, he sent whatever currency was leftover from his Requisition Note–about 20 gold coins, a not-insignificant amount for his parents. He was sure, however, to leave out any specific details of his career choice and the dangers he faced. It would not do to have his parents worry too much.

Additionally, Alexis spent time in the libraries of the Order, researching effects that would mirror that of his mysterious book. He (obviously) could not access the off-limits Vaults, and most of the higher-level arcane books were still beyond his understanding, but he learned much of beings that would communicate directly with their adjutants: the aboleth of the deep sea, the illithids of the underdark, particularly-powerful extraplanar entities like solars or devils, or even dragons.

While Alexis did not learn enough to suggest one particular explanation over another, he lay the groundwork for further investigation.

Rock-in-Water turned to studies as well, familiarizing herself with the native fauna and flora of the Yuirwood. Many were similar to her native homeland of the Cormanthor forest, and she took special note of the exceptions.

As they trained in Lyrabar, a new Field Agent joined their ranks! Their success in Songhal carried with it some acclaim, and Felkar was able to secure a new addition to their ranks. Orrin introduced himself as a student of music and lore, most recently having served as a diplomat most recently in the dragonborn nation of Tymanther, south across the Sea of Fallen Stars. He was a particularly-skilled orator, and the agents were grateful to gain a “face” for their group.

ii. The Temple Exterior

Once they were fully prepared, the agents chartered passage on The Mayweather, a cargo/passenger ship that often did circuits of the north and eastern coasts of the Sea of Fallen Stars. They made good time, covering roughly 100 miles per day. With a day spent offloading and onloading new cargo and passengers in each harbor, the agents arrived at their port of destination (Furthinghome) in late morning of the eighth day.

From there, the agents bought pack donkeys and took to overland travel. The land north of the Yuirwood (cleared over the years and settled by human farmers) was easy enough passage, but the journey became more difficult once they reached the forest proper.

The Yuirwood, while a temperate deciduous forest, was still quite humid, thanks to its proximity to the sea. Its famous sweltering tangle of brush and dense thickets slowed the agents somewhat, but they followed river beds and hill crests when available. The pack donkeys, strong and nimble, kept up easily.

The overland portion of their journey took another four days, and the agents finally arrived at their site on the twelfth day of travel. It was about one in the afternoon on the 3rd of Mirtul.

Felkar took immediately to his task of setting up a small, one-man tent as their forward-operating base. Here he would act as their direct liaison to the Order, communicating directly with both the agents and his higher-ups through Sending Stones. He would also guard the donkeys until such time as their mission was complete.

As he did so, the agents considered the temple before them. They couldn’t help but notice that, while the overall size was the same, the specific shape and arrangement did not match the sketch given to them by the elven scout. According to what they’d been given, there should have been two squat stone towers on either side of the entrance. Instead, the towers were missing, and the flagstone approach was much longer and more gradual.

“Was there some chance the scout found a different stone temple, by mistake?” Orrin asked Felkar.

“A local elf scout, getting lost?” laughed Felkar, as he pounded the tent stakes. “It’s more likely we’re the ones who got turned about. Yet here we are. Why do you ask?”

Each of the agents turned their special skills to the mystery. Immediately apparent was a wide, one hundred foot-wide swathe about the temple that was free of any large vegetation. Rock-in-Water dug a foot or so into the ground and noticed that nothing grew more than a few inches beneath the topsoil; only vegetation that sprouted quickly, like grasses and small flowers, had claimed this area.

Charli walked a circuit of the treeline and confirmed Rock’s observations. Taller plants like shrubs, undergrowth, and saplings had taken root in the forest, but they seemed to be completely absent in the area adjacent to the temple.

The agents quickly considered another theory, and then discarded it. Thanks to its intrinsic magic, the Yuirwood had been hit especially hard by the Spellplague, with entire swathes of forest opening up to new locations across the different planes. Such areas were called plaguelands, and they were hostile and unpredictable. However, few of these areas remained, and they had only seen one at a great distance on their way here…a single earthmote, handing impossibly in the air.

This temple sat in a clearing with no touch of the Spellplague to it…at least, not anymore.

Alexis withdrew a pair of magical spectacles that he had acquired just for this mission and studied the stonework of the temple itself. Each limestone block looked weathered-in-place; they had rounded edges, and dust and sediment had worn its way between block. There were no signs of recent movement, whether through physical or mechanical means. His Eldritch Sight also failed to notice anything unusual.

Orrin lent his own a hand to the investigation. Having spent a fair amount of time living with dwarves, he compared the stones here with the stonework he was familiar with. There was no comparison. Dwarvish stonecunning was renowned world-wide; and dwarvish stonecutters would hew large blocks by hand, without measurements, and still fit them together into seamless planes. These temple stones, while perfectly fine specimens, were of a vastly inferior quality.

Gorodash shifted impatiently from foot to foot. “Well, I don’t think we’ll find the answer we’re seeking anywhere up here,” he murmured. He was anxious to get below ground, where he would let his singing blade find the truth for him.

iii. Cleaning Out the Nest

If it was a fight Gorodash wanted, it was a fight he got. As soon as Alexis had lit his torch and the group descended the first flight of stairs into the waiting antechamber, they were attacked by five huge subterranean lizards. The reptiles apparently had migrated in from the forests outside the dungeon, taking advantage of the dark seclusion to build a nest.

Charli ducked into a nearby space too small for the reptiles, but Orrin was not so lucky. One of the nearest beast took him in its mighty maw, planning to add him to their pile of meat.

Alexis quickly moved his hands, calling forth a dazzling display of light and colors. Four of the five lizards stopped in a sudden trance, mesmerized by the hypnotic patterns.

The reptiles were neither small nor weak, and it was this action that likely saved a great deal of injury. Working together, the agents carefully felled one lizard at a time. Even then, Gorodash became entangled in the jaws of one of his foes, and Rock directed her two summoned Bears to throw their full weight against the beast until it dropped the paladin.

The contents of the nest told a sad tale. Alongside two large gestating eggs, Rock identified the remains of two mules and two humanoids–likely merchants or travelers that had been ambushed and felled by the beasts here. With these, Alexis found a small stash of personal items:

• Two sets of tattered leather armor
• A tattered shortsword and a tattered longbow
• 13 electrum pieces, 17 copper pieces

Alexis bundled these up to bring to Felkar, who would tally what they’d discovered during the mission. After all, record-keeping was very important for the Order. (Rock also snatched an egg for incubation, though any success would remain to be seen.)

The next chamber of the temple presented its own form of challenge. Past a short flight of downward-leading steps, an acidic miasma lingered in a basin-like area, periodically punctuated by column posts. Rock sent in one of her summoned bears to scout the area; she immediately recalled it after it began bellowing in pain, its fur dissolving before the caustic nature of the mist.

The agents experimented with the acid cloud. They put their minds together and worked through a litany of research.

  • The mist was heavier than air, lighter than water, was not combustible. Rock sprinkled rain via Create or Destroy Water and watched the mist reacting to the movement of air. This gave her a few ideas for the morrow.
  • Charlie and Alexis threw one of the lizard’s giant eggs into the room. Over time, it softened, bubbled, and dissolved. Rock’s sharp eyes noticed that the sludge seemed to soak quickly into the limestone floor, like milk spilled on a sponge.
  • Alexis used Mage Hand to check for tripwires, hidden switches, valves, or pipes that could control the presence of gas. There appeared to be none.
  • Using her wild-shape, Rock scouted as a spider along the ceiling, where the acid did not reach. She traced the perimeter of the room and noticed an exit at the far end, around a corner.

As the others continued to brainstorm, Alexis walked along the perimeter of the atrium. Stone reliefs depicting priests, ceremonies, and processions of petitioners awaited his eye. Thanks to a boon granted by his patron, Alexis was able to easily read any language that wasn’t secret, lost, or dead. The script that greeted him was a dialect of Abyssal. He interpreted the chilling messages about him in the temple, and he passed on his knowledge.

Calling back on his numerous hours spent in libraries, combined with the research he’d performed specifically for this mission, Alexis considered the various ways in which temples could be arranged. Temples to Lathander, the Morninglord, often had their altars pointed towards the east, where the sun would rise. Temples to Corellon often were situated at natural geological formations to reflect the elven god’s beauty.

Temples to the forces of the Nine Hells or the Abyss, on the other hand, were often situated in a top-down fashion, with the altar and most important chambers at the bottom. In this way, they honored the arrangement of the planes they worshiped.

This knowledge heavily implied that both the answers they sought, and their greatest challenges, still awaited them in the furthest depths of the temple. The crew returned to their camp for a long rest to better prepare their spell choices and to ready themselves for the dark.

Session Date: May 11th, 2020
Dale Reckoning:
 1523 DR (Year of the Brownie’s Delight), 3 Mirtul (3rd of the Melting)

B. The Labyrinth Awaits

i. There’s Always Room for Hell-No

After a long rest and time spent preparing both their packs and their spells, the group again returned to the temple. It was about ten at night. Felkar made sure they had one of a pair of Sending Stones should they became lost or separated, though they could only communicate with him once per day.

Rock called upon her magical powers to issue a Warding Wind, keeping the acidic mist at bay. Within the ten-foot radius offered by the spell, the group easily made it to the next area of the dungeon.

Alexis relit his torch as soon as all were safely on the other side, but the thin winding corridor they found themselves in was no more welcoming. As soon as the last of them had entered, a large stone block fell from the ceiling into the entrance, sealing them inside.

Asura, nearest to the blocked entrance, shrugged…that is, until the block’s form rippled. Teeth seemed to erupt from the flat surface, attempting to bite him.

Alexis, who had been studying the curiously-smooth and polished walls of this particular corridor, let loose with a Witch Bolt. His choice was in error, as the force of lightning split the block into two identical (but smaller) versions of itself.

Asura took to the nearest “stone block” with his warhammer, but a cruel surprise lay in wait. As he struck chips from its surface, acid splashed across both him and his hammer–injuring him and eating into his favorite weapon. It would not take long before his hammer corroded away in his hands.

Rock thought back to what she had studied in preparation for their voyage here. While such aberrations were far outside her experience with Beasts and Plants, she remembered stories told by adventurers returning from dungeons.

“It’s a Jelly!” she exclaimed to the others. “Don’t use lightning or slashing weapons against it!” (This did, of course, rule out most of her wild-shaped forms.)

Nodding in understanding, Orrin drew his foil and tossed it into the air, where it suddenly floated and wavered. His first adventures had not been with the Order, and he still carried a memento or two from his past journeys.

He pointed his finger at the giant ooze attacking Asura, and the sword sped off to do his bidding. Thanks to its magical nature (and its puncturing, rather than slashing, method of attack), Orrin’s flying foil helped lay damage on their foe.

But danger came from multiple directions. Out of the corner of her eye, Rock noticed the air near her suddenly shimmer and wobble…and she dived out of the way of an advancing block of translucent material.

Orrin, on the other hand, was not as lucky, and he was engulfed by the new threat. His skin instantly began dissolving, and the shaken agents watched his seemingly-floating body being quickly digested.

Hemmed in by danger on both sides, the agents needed to work together quickly. Alexis felled one of the “stone blocks” with a well-placed Chill Touch, then confronted the advancing Cube with another Witch Bolt. Asura stepped into the space left by the felled ooze and summoned an ethereal form of his own warhammer, to help him deal with the second.

The onward rushing wall of jelly proved a difficult foe. Despite a Flaming Sphere that Rock threw inside the monster itself, the unstoppable Cube absorbed Orrin, Rock, and even Alexis each in turn.

Fortunately, the gods themselves sent their aid, and the agent’s physical blows connected with extra force. Asura’s two warhammers (both physical and spiritual) struck with the anointed blessing of Lathander: once, twice, even thrice!

Joined together with Rock’s empowered club, the cleric’s unyielding assault finally beat the Cube into a pile of sludge. Its melting shape slipped from Alexis’s relieved form.

Asura ran to Orrin and mended his gushing arteries with divine magic. The aid could not have come any later; the bard was literally a breath from death.

There were no more threats to be found, and the polished nature of the stone walls was now apparent; the oozes had eaten away at their surfaces as they’d glided up and down the corridor.

At the end of the path, the agents came upon a small room, where a bundle of deteriorated leather armor and a cape lay. Studying the state of the leather, Rock estimated that the items had sat down here for several decades, at least. There was little to be found in the bundle–any flesh and bones had long been consumed by the oozes. The agents did, however, find three items still intact:

A Scroll of Melf's Acid ArrowA Potion of Healing
• A bloody journal page:

“If what this paper says is true,” Alexis noted grimly, “it appears we cannot trust even the walls of this dungeon.”

As Rock checked for traps or secret doors in their chamber, she felt a dull, distant rumbling in the stone blocks beneath her fingers. This seemed only to confirm Alexis’s suspicions.

ii. The Only Way Up is Down

Another Warding Wind later, and the group retraced their steps towards the main entrance. Instead of an exit to the surface, however, they were greeted by stairs leading further down into the dark.

Standing before the shifted staircase were Charli and Gorodash, scratching their heads in confusion. They had only just descended the steps when the stone blocks themselves had rearranged behind them, sliding into a new configuration.

The group took a short rest together, shared their experiences, and considered their options.

“This could be to our benefit,” Asura theorized. “Our mission is to search for a key…a key perhaps guarded by the creature this journal spoke of, but one very likely at the center of this dungeon.”

The staircase leading downward ended at an intersection of temple hallways. In the center of the space, a raised dais welcomed visitors with a religious symbol carved in stone: a large, unblinking eye. Cathedrals used depictions of saints or gods to help the masses center their focus; it should be no different here.

While many deities in Faerûn incorporated eyes into their representations, Charli recognized the specific image. It was the symbol of a greater deity–perhaps not one worshiped much outside the Underdark, but certainly one with significant influence. He shared what he remembered with his fellow agents:

Ghaunadaur (pronounced: /ˈgɒnɑːdaʊər/ GON-ah-dowr) was a greater deity and the god of abominations. His portfolio included slimy creatures, outcasts, and rebels. He was usually represented with an eye engraved in a purple disk.

The church of Ghaunadaur consisted of cults scattered throughout the Underdark, each dominated by a single individual. The main duty of Ghaundaur’s clerics was to ensure, in any way necessary, that Ghaunadaur’s altars were supplied with a steady supply of sacrifices. Clerics successful in these sacrifices were rewarded with magic power and items. Ghaunadaur enjoyed most of all those creatures that willingly offered themselves to it, whether or not they had been charmed or coerced by its clerics. Those clerics that succeeded in bringing willing sacrifices to Ghaunadaur’s altars were its most favored and highest ranked servants.

“That certainly fits what we have experienced of this dungeon thus far,” Alexis noted.

Directly across from the staircase, a sleeping area had been erected for incoming acolytes. The beds were simple, dusty, and adorned with colors pleasing to Ghaunadaur (purple, green, black, and metallic colors). Along the walls of the barracks were strings of Abyssal script reminding the clergy of their duties:

The agents also discovered four locked wooden chests. Alexis’s eldritch sight confirmed the presence of magical trinkets inside each one, and Charli used his Thieves’ Tools to open all but one. The last lock, too complex for his skills, broke as he attempted to pick it. Luckily, the hinges to the chest were on the outside, and Charli and Orrin worked together to knock them off with a crowbar.

The items inside would be helpful in the trials ahead. Together, they discovered:

Potion of HealingPotion of Greater HealingScroll of Longstrider
• An unfamiliar red-colored potion, with tiny bubbles of light floating inside
• 35 gold pieces
• Various sundries and effects from the acolytes' past lives

At the rear of the barracks, a stone statue reposed. Its unholy shapeless form sprouted numerous pseudopods and eyes–all, luckily, carved from stone.

Alexis donned his magical spectacles to study the statue. Perhaps there was a buttons, a switch, or perhaps even some way of shifting it. Crypts often held treasures within hidden compartments, or secrets behind hidden doors.

However, as his fingers brushed along the base of the statue, Alexis couldn’t shake the sudden impression that the statue was feeling him back. In fact, as he stepped abruptly backwards, the very walls themselves around him seemed to be watching him…readying to close in.

Alexis withdrew from the sculpture very quickly. “I do not know why, but I do not trust this statue, and I do not trust this place.” Following his suggestion, the agents left the barracks quickly. (Only Rock wished to stay and push the statue over, as cats often do, but she was out-voted.)

iii. Trust Nothing in This Place

The group decided to ply the westward corridor first. Arriving at a T-intersection, they performed a combination of looking, listening, and smelling the air about them.

Charli noticed a distant but distinct squelching noise emanating from the southern corridor. It reminded him of the sound a boot makes as it is pulled free of a muddy dirt road. Deciding to avoid unnecessary danger, the agents turned instead to the northern path.

A hinged stone door separated them from the next room. It was well-balanced, and it allowed only a hair’s breath between itself and the frame. Recalling that oozes required at least an inch’s space to squeeze through, the agents wondered if this was perhaps designed to keep an ooze out…or even in.

A pool of motionless water awaited them within.

Charli’s first instinct was to inspect the ceiling. He recalled that the stones in the acidic mist room had absorbed all water Rock had created, and he wondered it if had drained down onto this level.

However, as he drew abreast the pool itself, a column of liquid shot out of it and collided with his form.

Witnessing her friend seemingly attacked by the pool itself, Rock cast Destroy Water at it. However, only a sheen of water evaporated from its surface; in reality, it was a translucent ooze that simply found it easiest to hide in pools of liquid.

The ambush’s strategy soon become clear: the creature completely enveloped Charli from head to toe, simultaneously suffocating and digesting him in its liquid grasp.

Orrin reached into the creature with his bare arms; together with the victim’s help, he managed to pull Charli free of the ooze’s form. Charli dodged to the side and sprang away from the monster, intent on not being swallowed again.

Alexis squinted at the creature. Though it was not made of water itself, it seemed to react in similar fashion. “Try burning or freezing it!” he called out.

Orrin complied and held his hands outward, his thumbs touching and his fingers spread. A sheet of flame erupted from his fingertips, and the creature seemed to melt where the fire touched it.

Not to be outdone, Rock recalled her strategy against a very vexing devil when she had been in the bowels of hell itself. Transforming into a large toad, she bit into one end of the viscious entity and swallowed it up, like a long string of mucus.

Her stomach acids worked quickly, and within seconds it was dead. However, the toad turned a shade greener than usual, and she gagged a few times. She had been momentarily reminded of a young child suffering a severe head cold.

Nothing else remarkable awaited them in the room, save perhaps the new inscriptions on the walls about them.

“Let’s…not do that,” Charli suggested.

“Indeed,” agreed Alexis. “I wonder if what just attacked us was itself once a temple acolyte? Perhaps the waters themselves cause a transformation in the body? In any case, I am not eager to find out.”

The exit from the watery room led back, not to the north-and-south corridor, but instead directly to the intersection of the Ghaunadauran eye. The stairway leading up had also vanished, having been replaced by yet another door-capped hallway.

An unnerving presence watched them from the southern side of the intersection. A large bulbous black being regarded them from around a corner. A white-and-black eye the size of a barrel lid seemed painted on its figure.

Apparently noticing the party, the thing withdrew from view, ignoring a hail Charli shouted in Abyssal. Chasing it, the agents encountered only a stone wall where the barracks used to be.

There was no evidence of the unsettling entity’s passing, and no further sign of it.

Session Date: May 18th, 2020
Dale Reckoning:
 1523 DR (Year of the Brownie’s Delight), 3 Mirtul (3rd of the Melting)

C. A Chilling Discovery

i. Roped into Combat

New corridors and doorways greeted them; so too did new Abyssal script along the walls:

Alexis considered the history of Faerûn in the past century and a half, and how the Spellplague had fundamentally altered the land during that time. Pockets of the Blue Fire persisted even after the initial Wailing Years–distorted areas called “plaguelands” where unnatural magic twisted visitors into abominations. Indeed, the Yuirwood they now explored had once been a particularly famous plagueland, where rumors said ancient elven menhir portals had malfunctioned, sometimes opening up on other planes entirely.

As they discussed this, Alexis used his prestidigitation to place a red hand mark on the inside of the nearest door. Unlike the previous ill-fated adventurers, the agents didn’t have a spool of thread handy, but they improvised as best they could.

After a short discussion on whether it even mattered the direction they chose, the agents went east. The next room held four pillars and a southern door. Alexis placed a blue magical hand-print on the inside of this set of doors, then proceeded to translate the engravings here:

These words too jogged a memory. Alexis had learned much in his time at Candlekeep, and he recalled how ill-advised pilgrims would make “Scar Pilgrimages” to plaguelands, eager to gain some of the power offered by the Blue Fire. Rather than attain their prize (a coveted “Spellscar“), most pilgrims simply died a horrible and twisted death.

This “Umeren” had apparently gone on a pilgrimage of his own, some time in the recent past. Instead of a spellscar, it would appear the figure had encountered something quite different, something connected to Ghaunadaur. But such pilgrimages had only taken place in the last century or so, and the writing on these walls appeared much older than that. Alexis mulled over the discrepancy.

Asura was studying the closest stone pillar to him when something lashed by his head, narrowly missing him. A tentacle retracted towards the dark area of the room across from them, and the agents readied themselves for combat.

Soon, more pseudopods appeared, latching themselves onto Alexis and Orrin and pulling them forcibly towards the opposite corner. Now illuminated by the dim light of Alexis’s torch, a hungry mouth opened in the surface of a stone “column.” Some form of jelly-like ooze creature had disguised itself as a part of the temple itself, awaiting its next meal.

The battle itself was short and fierce, and the creature was only able to injure one of the party–Orrin, as he broke free of the tentacles just before he was swallowed. Alexis Misty Stepped away from the tentacle holding him, Asura and Orrin both called floating weapons to aid them, and Rock bit into the monster while in her Giant Toad form–pinning it down while the others pressed their attacks.

Much like the jelly block that had attacked them in the corridor previously, this monster crumbled into a pile of stone and gravel upon its demise.

ii. One Man’s Trash…

The party proceeded through the southern exit into yet another chamber, this time with an exit to the east. After placing a magical green hand-print on the inside of these doors, they turned to two chests placed against the western wall.

Between them, a phrase had been carved in Abyssal against the wall:

Forsake the treasures of this world
And instead give yourselves wholly to the Elder Eye

Charli tapped the first chest with his collapsible ten-foot pole; nothing happened. He then bent forward to use his Thieves’ Tools on the lock.

A needle shot out of the lock in response. Near him, Asura thought he saw the needle puncture Charli’s skin…but the agent made no reaction.

“Comrade, are you hurt?” Asura asked, ready to apply healing magic if required.

“No, I’m fine,” the other answered. Indeed, if there had been any sort of poison on the needle, it seemed to have no effect on Charli.

Inside the chest was a Potion of Growth. The group decided to save this for Rock, who could make the most use of it while in an animal form.

Potion of Growth

The second chest was set up much like the first. Again, Charli seemed to simply ignore the trap hidden in the chest’s lock, deftly opening it with his tools. There were no potions or scrolls inside this chest, however. Instead, the bottom and sides were covered with a strange green moss.

Intrigued, Charli attempted to use an empty bottle to scrape up some of the lichen. However, his hand brushed the inside of the chest, and the moss immediately fastened itself to his skin, burning him where it touched.

Jumping backwards from the chest, Charli watched the green moss spreading and growing across his hand. He spit on it, but this seemed to do nothing. If the party did not act quickly, the threat could very quickly spread across his entire body and consume him.

Fortunately, Asura had the precise tool needed to deal with the threat. A Sacred Flame washed radiant energy over Charli’s hand, burning back the spread of the lichen and exposing Charli’s wounds to the air. From there, healing magic (or even simple medicine) would be all that was necessary.

Taking no chances, Asura also used his radiant spells to clean out every trace of the moss from the second crate. He was disheartened to learn that no other treasure awaited them. Still, considering the text adjacent to the chests, it was not illogical to think the corrosive green moss had been itself the treasure.

Much like every chamber before, here new scripts in Abyssal awaited their study:

Orrin, again drawing on his knowledge of Ghaunadaur, explained that the “blessed stock” phrase likely referred to Ghaunadaur’s favored creatures–oozes, jellies, and similar aberrations.

The text did, however, raise a very interesting question.

“Comrades, does this mean we are inside…a giant ooze?” Asura shuddered. Charli shook his head to himself, for such a suspicion had been festering in his mind as well.

It was now about midnight. The agents began to hear a distant buzz: the Summoning Stone that Felkar had given them signaled a new communication. Taking it out, the agents decoded the message:

TEMPLE DOOR CLOSED AFTER YOU STOP STONES SHIFT IF STRUCK WITH PICKAXES STOP PLEASE GIVE SITUATIONAL REPORT AND UPDATE DAILY

The agents recalled that Summoning Stones could only send a single message of twenty-five words or less, once a day. Felkar was obviously worried about their condition and wanted to touch base with them. They put together their own message and relayed it back:

GHAUNADAUR TEMPLE IS LIVING OOZE STOP CREATURE HUNTING US STOP RESEARCHING METHOD TO KILL CREATURE STOP HAVEN’T LOCATED KEY YET STOP ANY ADVICE APPRECIATED

It would be some time before Felkar could reply; hopefully he’d have new intel from the Order when he did.

The group began fielding ideas about the nature of their prison. Felkar had reported the stones themselves moved when attacked; perhaps this could be replicated. The agents exchanged looks of chagrin when they realized that not one of them had packed a pickaxe to go dungeoneering. Still, they had other equipment that could be repurposed.

Asura began pounding a piton into the nearest door with his favorite warhammer. As soon as a crack began to show in the stone’s face, however, the rent split wide and sprouted teeth that sank into him. A pseudopod further struck the cleric in the back of the head as he withdrew, downing him.

The other agents sprang to. Rock sank her own Giant Toad teeth into the disturbed ooze block and held it still until the others had beaten it into rubble. Orrin put Asura back on his feet with a handy Healing Word.

The crew decided to take a short rest to gather themselves. As they did, Orrin showcased a second interesting feature of his dancing sword: a flute that had been carved into the metal of the sheathe. As they sat together, Orrin played a deep, gentle melody that aided their recovery and improved their focus.

Session Date: May 25th, 2020
Dale Reckoning:
 1523 DR (Year of the Brownie’s Delight), 4 Mirtul (4th of the Melting)

D. Friends in Low Places

i. An Inner Transformation

It was one in the morning of the next day. As they had rested, the agents had discussed the nature of their situation. Alexis wondered if the “blessed stock” that was referenced (“the primordial ooze,” as he liked to term it) was sentient and capable of being controlled, as suggested by the engravings.

“Furthermore,” he added, “we caught sight of one ooze that appeared and behaved far differently than the others we’ve encountered–that mysterious eye from earlier, if you’ll recall. I wonder if there are multiple strains of oozes in this temple?”

“There seem to be a scope of different intelligences at work here,” Charli noted. “We’ve seen the eye creature; we’ve fought jellies driven by mere hunger; and we’re currently sitting on temple stones that are just sleeping oozes.”

“This sounds complicated,” muttered Gorodash. He was confident his friends would handle any esoteric deliberations their missions demanded. His role was in the party, on the other hand, was to inspire quick and resolute action, and to take the lead in battle. (Though even he understood that dueling the entire temple, one block at a time, was an ill-advised quest.)

A large ceremonial room awaited them at the end of the next corridor. As Alexis’s torchlight illuminated the distant corners, they discovered more raised daises with the symbol of Ghaunadaur, and a larger version of the unholy statue they’d left in the acolyte quarters.

There too were eight personal prayer shrines in various places about the room. Atop of each sat empty clay cups; before each lay a bundle of clothes, as if cast aside. Apparently taking the teaching of this “Umeren” to heart, the worshipers has cast aside these last earthly possessions before their…transformations.

Whatever the acolytes had become through their foul ceremonies, their monstrous shapes still patrolled the room. With a familiar and sickening squelching sound, four shapes attacked the party.

Interestingly, not all of the acolyte transformations were identical. Some responded to slashing and electric attacks much as the stony blocks. Others emitted shrill shrieks that rent the air and threatened to drive the agents mad, while the ground around them rippled like mud, trapping the unwary. Sparking alchemical reactions that flew from their mouth blinded Alexis for a moment, but the other agents covered their eyes in time.

Divinely-empowered strikes from Gorodash’s war whip dispatched one of the foes, and Charli’s inerrant crossbolt bolts downed another. Rock summoned two giant fey toads to grapple and swallow the remainders. While the Gibbering Mouthers’ keening unhinged the minds of the unfortunate amphibians, it took no concerted action to digest them. Soon the Agents were alone again in the chamber.

Alexis and Charli walked together along the walls of the room. Thanks to their individual talents, both could read the Abyssal script; and they discussed its implications and what form of ceremony could have given birth to such monstrosities.

No longer hampered by Charli and Alexis’s intellectual reservations, Rock convinced Gorodash to help her “push over” the giant statue at the north end of the chamber. Also eager to deface shrines to evil gods, the paladin helped the bear to tip the aberrant likeness to the stone floor.

It could have gone better. Rather than shattering, the statue gathered itself up into a large, red, and angry pulsating mass. At first attempting to blind them with mesmerizing colors, the beast then touched a slimy pseudopod to Gorodash’s temple.

The orc felt the creature invade his mind, sifting through his memories, shuffling his reactions, and confusing his hand in battle.

Still, the statue-turned-monster was heavily outnumbered, and it was only able to defeat one of the summoned toads before being beaten into rubble.

ii. Who Goes There?

A corridor led beyond the southern door, but the agents surprised by what they encountered. Rock (who had wild-shaped into a Bear during the last combat, and whose speech was made possible by a scroll of Tongues), reported a nearby smell quite alien to this unnatural habitat–the natural smell of sweat.

“Halt! Who goes there!” a voice rang out. Quickly approaching them came what appeared to be a very normal-looking halfling woman, carrying equipment suitable for dungeoneering. A ring on one hand shone with a magical light, aiding her in her expedition through the dark. Upon seeing the new faces, she pursed her lips in displeasure.

“We didn’t think any other dungeoneers had found this place before us,” she muttered. “Great. Garlyn is not going to be happy about this.”

Recognizing the name from the bloody journal they’d discovered, Alexis stepped forward. “Hello, my name is Alexis, and these are my friends. Was there also a…’Valdove’ in your party?”

“Yes!” the halfling’s eyes lit up with recognition. “Or, rather…there used to be. She died to one of the oozes, and that’s when Garlyn decided to turn back. But the corridors seemed to start moving and changing on their own, and I fell down a pit trap that was definitely not there before.” A small look of hope entered her eyes. “Since you know their names, does this mean you met Garlyn or Sevrin on your way here?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” Alexis said sadly. “We found the bloody journal of…this ‘Sevrin,’ most likely, who believed he was the last. And it appeared he did not survive.”

“Well, balls, you know what this means? It means I’m probably not getting paid. Well, let me know if you see any treasure on the way out, so it’s not a complete loss. Say, you haven’t seen a thin thread running through the corridors, have you? I unspooled it behind us so we wouldn’t get turned about, but I lost track of it after that pit trap.”

“No luck there,” Alexis returned. “How…long exactly have you been down here, on your own?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been wandering around by myself ever since I got separated. It’s kind of hard to tell time down here in the dark. Could have been hours. Could have been days.”

“I wasn’t aware it was possible to survive down here this long,” Alexis noted.

“And I wasn’t aware there was anyone else here besides my party,” Syldrey returned, “So I guess that makes us even.”

“I guess it does,” chuckled the agent, who finally extended his hand to the other in welcome. The halfling took it in hers.

Alexis noted the stiff rigidity of the other’s flesh, and the apparent presence of bones. Her clothes seemed genuine, and her gloves glowed with an arcane magic his eldritch vision could detect. His fears assuaged somewhat, Alexis invited the halfling to journey with them as far as the temple’s exit…wherever that may be.

iii. Death by a Thousand Nibbles

The walls regaled them with explanations of their experiences.

The hallway presented a series of doors along one side. Rock reported the smell of feathers and fur behind the nearest. Syldrey challenged them to a contest of who could check the door for traps the fastest, but no one took her up on it. The also debated the merits of opening the door versus smashing the door and eliminating the subsequent ooze, but in the end they merely pushed it ajar.

An owlbear awaited them in the otherwise-vacant square chamber.

“Why would there be an owlbear in the middle of this dunge–” was all Alexis managed to get out before the creature attacked.

On its own, a single owlbear was not much of a threat for the seasoned fighters. However, a nasty surprised awaited them upon its defeat. As the last blow was struck, the creature split down the middle with a wet slurping sound, dividing itself into four identical (and smaller) copies of itself.

Neither were the four lessened versions the last step of the division; each would further subdivide once more into four tinier copies, each nipping and biting at their ankles. While each of these small-sized “oozebears” dealt a proportionately small amount of damage, and while they took only one or two blows to dispatch, there could be up to sixteen of them from a single mothering oozebear.

Their adorable figures clogged the battlefield; without access to a handy Fireball, the agents were quickly being overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Alexis, Charli, and Syldrey stayed mobile and kept out of reach of most of the creatures, attempting to pick them off from a distance. Rock placed her large-than-life bear form in the center of a door frame, minimizing how many creatures could attack her at one time. Between wild-shapes, she attempted different spells: an Entangle spell did little, and she quickly lost concentration on a Flaming Sphere after the first few ankle bites.

Luckily, her third spell was key. Casting her most potent magic, Rock summoned eight Giant Wolf Spiders to distract the oozebears and soak up injury. The spiders quickly outflanked the oozes, going toe-to-toe with the aberrations and beating them on their own terms.

The injured agents were relegated to spectators, simply staying out of the way long enough for the spiders to do their job. Still, they could breath a sigh of relief knowing the oozes were too occupied to attack them directly.

The battle ended well, and three spiders emerged victorious. They would continue to be under Rock’s control for the next hour, and they would make excellent sentinels for a much-needed period of rest.