In which standing in the way of Paldemar's ascension to his place amongst the Rockworms of Kworm exacts a bitter toll...
Roster (Party Level 7th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Matorna-Reevash (Human Kingsblade warrior, Finial's Companion)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
No time for talk, no time for subtlety. The party leaps blade-and-wand first to end this threat once-and-for-all, Matorna-Reevash howling for revenge as she leaps from the platform to attack the mages.
Paldemar is taken-aback by the attack -- "The interlopers from the Well? Here?!" -- and shouts a convoluted command word into the air. Immediately the Necrotech Nodes crackle into life, and the patches of metal hull encircled by each of the arrays begins to glow first red, then white-hot. "Namotath's children will call to their father today," he spits at them, backing away, his fingers crackling with unchecked energies, "and there is nothing you or anyone can do about it!".
Given the strangeness of their surroundings, the party decides to split their attentions. Matorna-Reevash, Jonas, and Finial slide down the metal bowl to attack Paldemar, Berend moves off to the other side of the room to engage Passeract, and Elumai launches magic into the fray from the upper walkway while directing her Mage Hand in its attempts to free the nearest mage, a sickly-looking woman hanging from her hands in blood-soaked robes. "Please..." she gasps, flecks of blood on her lips, "... don't let him... give me... to the worms!"
Paldemar's attacks are powerful if mundane, pulsing beads of force that smash into their targets, and clouds of lightning that electrocute the air. Passeract on the other hand seems to reek of some kind of inner pestilence, emitting from his mouth clouds of noxious spores that burn the lungs or, from his fingers, wisps of freezing cold that wrap the muscles in fatigue. Still the party is more than able to withstand, and in the first few seconds of the fight is absolutely devastating, raining blows down on both exhausted mages, struggling to get distance on the company in order to unleash their own attacks.
Of course Paldemar still has a surprise or two up his sleeve, as the patch of metal hull within one of the Necrotech circles above suddenly buckles and gives way under the heat. A column of worms two-feet thick smashes with enormous pressure into the base of the sphere, splashing up in a fountain of worms sending thousands of the tiny creatures spattering down all over the room. Now the purpose of Paldemar's prisoners becomes horrifically clear, as two of the helpless mages in direct line of the eruption are consumed by a shroud of worms several inches thick. Their choked, pitiful screams are cut abruptly short as they fall from their shackles into the writhing pool which has formed at the room's base.
As quickly as Tumerex's ingress into the vessel is permitted, it is cut off as a shimmering black-purple wall of force blinks into being between the Nodes. Now another sound can be heard, a numbing buzz of static that vibrates everybody's skulls. "His children!" Paldemar gasps, pressing his palms to his forehead. "Do you hear them?! They are calling for their father!" Paldemar's victorious laughter continues unabated as the adventurers chase him up from the pit of worms onto the walkway, raining blow after blow into his defenses. He surely cannot last much longer.
Meanwhile Elumai's efforts to free one of the mages have succeeded. The woman is barely conscious, but manages to bring supporting fire in the form of weak Magic Missiles into the fight. Elumai turns her Mage Hand's attention to another of the conscious prisoners as she unleashes the full fury of the elements at the main fight, now taking place perilously close to the edge of a terrible fate in the writhing mass of worms below.
She shouts a warning as two half-consumed zombies heave themselves from the pit. They are what is left of the mages, much of their flesh eaten away by worms thrown into a frenzy by whatever malignant process Paldemar has put them through, skin and bone crawling with tiny maggot-like creatures. One of them shambles towards Berend, punching at the dwarf and tearing at any exposed skin it can find, trying desperately to infect him with the flesh-eating worms, while the other climbs the pit towards the rest of the party.
Then a few things happen in quick succession. The first is that the next node gives way, spewing yet more worms into the chamber and turning almost the entire bottom half of the room into a sea of writhing, coiling worm-flesh, nipping at Berend's heels as he struggles to defend himself against the combined attacks of both Passeract and the subsumed wormling. At the same time, the static hum in the air grows a magnitude in strength, bringing several people in the room to their knees. And finally, Paldemar at last succumbs to the focused attacks of the party.
Eyes wide, he clutches his stomach, which has begin to undulate disconcertingly. "Namotath... I am your servant..." he gurgles, the sound coming out of his throat far from human, "...father, I come..." With that, he rolls off the edge of the platform, his entire torso bursting open in a tangled knot of slimy, thick-bodied annelids, and disappears into the pool of worms below, which starts to bubble and seethe like a turbulent ocean.
The company has no option but to deal with the immediate threat however. Three more mages have been consumed by the second eruption, and are even now clawing their way into the light. Jonas, having taken something of a beating himself, eyes the pool below and begins to retreat towards the door, shouting to the others to do the same, but they are resolute, pulling their foes together for mutual advantage. Soon two of the wormlings have been obliterated, and Passeract is felled... just as Paldemar -- or whatever he has become -- returns to the fight.
Exploding upwards from the worm-pool, the mage has been utterly transformed. A thick, trunk-like body uncoils itself into the air and three spined tentacles lash out from the pit, smashing down onto the walkway with enormous force. A long neck unfurls, with a bulbous head on which is drawn the mage's contorted face... whether in the last throes of agony or ecstacy, it's impossible to tell. Berend barely has time to react before one of the tentacles wraps around his midriff and uncoils like a wound spring, hurling him against the wall with bone-crushing force. One of the other tentacles slams into Matorna-Reevash, breaking bones, and as she staggers back, it entwines her body.
Paldemar -- or whatever he is now -- shows little remorse. As the party brings the last of their energies to bear on his shifting form, he smashes Matorna-Reevash again, whipping her clear across the room into a bloodied, unconscious heap. The rest of the company are fading fast, the attrition of the fight having taken its toll. Elumai has no choice but to put herself in harm's way, and pays for her bravery by being hurled right through the open door. She skids to a halt just inches from certain death in the wall of worms outside, her life bleeding onto the metal floor.
With two of the company out of action, the fight turns into a grim struggle for survival. Paldemar is suffering heavily under continued assault from the remaining members of the party, but every one of them knows that he is capable of killing them with almost one blow. Jonas has already taken advantage of the boon granted to him by Vecna, and retreats to the entranceway where he can snipe the worm-thing with at least some protection from the door; Berend and Finial stand side-by-side, the dwarf's axe imbued with Bahamut's blessings, carving swathes of flesh from the mage's bloated form.
On such knife edges do battles turn. Paldemar, close to victory but perhaps unable to contain the furies within him, flails wildly at his attackers even though he now has control of all three of his tentacles. The wormlings, consumed from within by the worms and battered from without by the company's weapons, have already fallen... and finally, at the very limits of endurance and closer to outright defeat than they have ever been before, the party manages to cleave the transformed mage's head from his body. The giant worm collapses into the churning pit and sinks out of sight.
Utterly exhausted, those who are left standing rush to the aid of their friends. Matorna-Reevash is dead, her smashed body long-since having succumbed to its injuries. Finial lays a light hand on her burned face, closing her eyes while muttering a gentle benediction. He is however able to restore Elumai before her wounds get the better of her, and the party, once more reduced to four members, pauses to survey the scene of their victory.
Little has changed in the spherical chamber. The static buzzing in the air hasn't diminished, and the two gaping holes in the hull reveal the medium of worms outside, held at bay only by the magic of the Necrotech Nodes... but for who-knows how long. The third array has gone dormant, presumably because the worm it was intended for, thanks to the company's previous efforts in the Well, was never birthed. A quick search of the chamber is certainly a risk that pays dividend: a chest with Paldemar's fortune -- over 2000 gold -- is easily recovered.
Unwilling to stay and rest, and even more unwilling to risk another dangerous jaunt through the worm corridor, Elumai carefully enacts the ritual necessary to relocate the unfixed end of the Worm's Portal. The rite is expensive, requiring her to obliterate several of their unused magical items, but completely successful, and under the stern gaze of Whatever intelligence once more observes their journey, they return, victorious, to the Seven-Pillared Hall...