Roster (Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (off-stage)
Jonas - Human Ranger (off-stage)
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord
Leaving Finial and Jonas behind to watch the rear, the party plunges neck-deep into a connecting tunnel, swimming their way through weed-choked water to another vault, much like the one they just left behind. Magical illumination reveals stagnant, hip-deep water, with the space between the four pillars choked with sharp fronds that look like petrified versions of the rubbery weeds they've been wading through.
According to Luhnarstes' map, the way forward is through the lair of the "green-skins" to the south, but in an explorative mood, the company decides to head for another opening to the east. Hugging the wall, they're unnerved by the sensation that there are heavy... somethings submerged in the water, bobbing against their bodies as they walk. Xavier takes it upon himself to stab one of them, resulting in a cloud of milky, noxious-looking chum bubbling up from underneath, and after more examination, it appears to be a humanoid body of some kind, wrapped in weed, and tied off to the weed-bed under the water. Careful not to desecrate the tomb any further, they push on to the north-eastern vault.
The next room is unusual. A viscous scum, like egg-white, appears to have collected around the edges of the vault, and the entire south-eastern quarter of the chamber has collapsed inward... and unnaturally so, as if a great explosion or other event deep in the rock pushed hundreds of tons of rubble into the room. The mucus-like substance, upon closer inspection, is shot through with colour... much like the flurock, and a degree of speculation ensues as to the nature of the substance, and its relation to the mysterious rock.
Within the collapse itself, the company discovers a strange void, about a foot across and worming its way through the rock. The interior surface is lined with a chalky powder, also determined to be the strange material that originally brought them to Saruun Khel, and the party cogitates on this new information. Is the flurock excreted by some kind of underground creature, or food for ir, perhaps? Are Paldemar and his mages using the stuff to attract some kind of burrowing worm, perhaps as an engineering tool or for some other nefarious purpose? No answers are to be had here, and with the rock-fall completely blocking the exit to the south, they have no choice but to put their theories on the back-burner and forge on for now.
Expecting trouble, they cautiously make their way down the duct to the middle vault of the cistern... only to find it completely plugged with a mass of dried weeds. Although a submerged valve does provide a way to circumvent the barrier, Berend is understandably reticent and in the end, the company attaches a rope to the weed plug and pulls it forcibly down, retreating whence they came.
No attack is forthcoming, although the hissing sibilants of a language no-one understands reverberate out at them through the tunnel. Xavier boldly proclaims their purpose -- that they intend no harm, and simply want to pass -- and after what seems like an interminable wait, a lizard-like creature with four arms, wielding a barbed trident and with a leather mask draped over most of his features, emerges suspiciously from the tunnel. It is a sahuagin, far from its normal home in this dank, festering basement. Calciferous tumours cover much of its body like a disease, once again the the same hue and texture as the flurock.
There follows a tense stand-off as both parties strive to understand each-other across the language barrier. Pantomime diplomacy enthusiastically applied on Xavier's part, and the gift of a sword to the saguagin emissary, eventually seem to communicate their intention not to do any harm, and several other sahuagin emerge, all sporting the same strange growths on their bodies. Surrounding the company, they urge them forward. With little option but to trust that their efforts were successful, they're led into the sauagin enclave.
Inside, the room is dark with weed and algae, growing far up the walls and across the ceiling. Large outcrops of crisp, dry weed have been gathered around the bases of the pillars, forming islands of sorts, and in the far corner, what looks like the jaws of a giant shark, wrapped reverently in overlapping strands of weed, has been strung from the ceiling. As the party is led through the chamber with dark, unblinking eyes watching their progress, they spy what might be the sanctuary's priest, a slouched, crooked beast with four segmented tentacles where his right arm should be. The creature hisses at them in disgust as they pass, but doesn't interfere.
Soon they stand no worse for wear in the next vault, having passed unscathed through the sahuagin lair, and with the entrance sealed unceremoniously shut behind them.
Pushing on, the atmosphere begins to change. The water they're wading through becomes icy cold, as does the air in their lungs, and the fungal growths in the cistern take on gigantic, deformed proportions. Access to the final vault on Luhnarstes' map is via an ascending pipe that is almost blocked by these festering growths, dripping slime onto the adventurer's heads and necks, and decomposing into mold almost before their very eyes.
The final chamber is similar, but writ large. Massive, rotting mushrooms and other plants line the walls, pillars, and ceiling, and a constant dripping rain of slime has created a standing layer of vitriol on the floor... but it's the minotaur corpse lying half-consumed by fungal growths near the door that grabs their most immediate attention. The creature is skeletal save for a thin layer of skin that appears almost blanketed over its skull, and is lying slumped in death, one hand clutching an aged sword.
Xavier cannot resist -- after all, he has to replace the sword he gave to the sahuagin -- but unfortunately, touching the minotaur appears to activate a ghostly trap. Suddenly from all around, the distant sound of applause begins to swell, growing from a mere echo to a thunderous roar which washes over the room. Several spectral shapes appear near the center... ghostly minotaurs, dressed in gladiator's garb. They salute the unseen crowd, which shouts its approval, and advance upon the party.
The fight contracts around the entrance to the vault, and becomes nasty. The party is outnumbered and Berend quickly finds himself surrounded on almost all sides. Azurami unleashes a storm of thunderous energies, smashing her attackers back again and again, but still they keep coming... and she suddenly notices something odd, that their reactions to her attacks, although realistic, seem a little forced... theatrical, almost.
The mystery resolves itself when Berend shouts a challenge at the watching crowd -- "I'll not play your games any more!" -- causing their boos and whistles to turn to deafening applause as his axe smashes through one of the gladiators... who then suddenly winks out of existence. Picking up the hint, the others do the same, playing the crowd as best they can and eradicating their opponents one by one not only through their own firepower, but also on the sharp edge of audience approval.
At this point, however, things take an unexpected turn. The nearby skeletal minotaur creaks to life, rising to its feet as several others push their way out of the the deep folds of the festering vegetation. The battle commences with renewed ferocity, much to the audience's delight, but Xavier is almost overwhelmed as he desperately fights off multiple attackers...