With the many legged horror dispatched (hacked into a pile of what mostly resembled knees) the party pushes on into the seemingly endless maze of twisting caverns and tunnels.
Rymyr is visibly shaken and whilst Drenn, as ever, remains keen to push on along through the dark.
The party falls into a pattern of daily routine as they journey on into the blanket of darkness. Night sees guard duties set and after lean meals the party hunkers down onto thin blankets to troubled sleep. While most rest fitfully at best the two refugees seem to struggle the most. Conor, often walking in his sleep, ever wandering deep in the caverns with no memory of his journey there, fairs better than Drenn. He spends nights deep in night fevers, often crying out to some unseen phantom from his past or some terror lurking in an imagined future.
Morning sees Drenn hurriedly assemble trappings and ready for the road ahead. Aeislun studies him closely, with psionic assistance on occasion, his study like that of a collector of bugs noticing some unusual behavior in a particular specimen. Eventually curiosity becomes concern and the Elf suggests the man-child try to rest further. Drenn is unconcerned, instead focusing on the journey and the goal ahead.
The rest of the party wake slowly and set about established routines. Nizhoni, having slept in her feline soulmelds, stretches and growls, as sinewy muscles stretch and bulge below the cat’s sleek form. Whilst the party cooks trail rations the totemist of lioness likeness bounds away in search of a more challenging quarry on which to break her fast. Rymyr and Dahloy both rise slowly and spend time in study before packing away camps. Dahloy straps on his complicated armored kilt as a series of well-oiled buckles and clips fall into place. Rymyr’s travel preparations are less regular but require no less time, many days seeing her with a strange symbol painted on her skin or cloak, and on occasion her cloak made to cover her face and head, the shadow within curiously dark and hard edged.
Nebes packs away his heavy woolen blanket and heads into a quiet cavern corner. He often sits and contemplates the sigils and markings on his blade, tracing his finger over the patterns as he forms the rune names with his dry cracked lips, mouthing the ancient names in still contemplative silence. On occasion he will find some vegetation or loose rock to test the great blade. Often taking but a few controlled swings before sitting again and considering the results. The power of the blade remains hidden and Nebes is desperate to see both its, and his own potential, realized…
Scarlett sleeps lightly and rouses quickly. Meticulously checking weapons and poisons as she readies herself for the day. Small animal traps left overnight are surveyed for food, and with this complete and weapons stowed she spends the last minutes reviewing her journal and making notes on the weapons and preparations she has readied for the day ahead.
Aeislun spends the morning cooking and in general elvish mischief; his offerings surprisingly tasty given the meager supplies. The party have learned not to ask too many questions on contents however.
The group tracks on through the drudgery of the caverns. Someone cracks a joke to break the mood. Drenn and Rymyr often fall into step chatting and on occasion arguing, but never too heated a display. Connor flits between the groups members ears ever alert for tales of the overworld, keen to know of gods, men and the great cities of the Sorcerer Kings. Nizhoni and Scarlett often leave the body of the party, disappearing to hunt and explore, mostly separately and occasionally together.
Aeislun spends his time between scouting ahead and teasing / pushing and generally getting under the feet of Nebes, the strange friendship between the pair strengthened daily through their strange mixture of jest and torment. The massive stone guard showing seemingly endless patience for antics of the elf as he does his best to keep upright, all the while a close eye on his employer Rymyr, the incident with the many legged beast never far from his thoughts.
Someone provides musical entertainment and all the while the backbeat to the party’s steady march is the constant thump of Hrungo: marked by the great turtle’s plodding gate and the occasional growl of hunger or frustration. Nizhoni comforts the creature best she can but the trial is taking its toll on even his immense constitution.
The end of one particular day sees the party at the entrance to cave with six lengthy passages leaving a large central area and a deep well at its apex, with torrents of hot yellow sand cascading from holes above. The air below is hot and heavy.
The party is on edge, as well as strange humming beetles along the path to the cavern a trial of blood and traces of spice has marked the way, Aeislun spending time sampling both. Watches are set and the heavy fey air in the cavern and the hum of the beetles means watches are often broken as sleep assailed the weary travelers. Difficulty waking means Scarlett and Aeislun nearly come to blows, the elf once again overstepping Scarlett’s boundary and the half drow reaching instinctively for her weapon. The rest of the night passes calmly enough, though its clear in the morning that magic has been at play here, in some form or other.
Inspection of the well and shaft shows the way up to be fruitless and the party are left with a choice to scale the shaft, following the incessant cascade of hot sand. Aeislun ,as ever, favors advancement over patience and is first to make the descent, closely followed by Nizhoni who leaps to find herself surfing down a steep wave of sand, to a cavern below. The center of which sees a humanoid body laying face down. Dead for perhaps a week, it appears to be that of a slave, its back marked by the licking tongue of its owners whips.
As Nebes surveys the cavern above for one last time before descending the shaft he realizes that the cave configuration forms the shape of a giant scarab or other beetle, the lengthy passageways its spindly legs, the main cavern the massive carapace, with the well and shaft the head of the creature. Whether entombed in the sandy rock and eroded by salt and wind or sculpted by the denizens of the caverns, to be in the midst of this gigantic form sends a chill through all the party. There are powers and events here that have clearly yet to become fully apparent.
Again the party finds itself in sculpted caverns. This time with fresh water pools surrounding a central white sandy island. Heavy fungus grows across one wall and the clear water appears to be washing through the dense fungal curtain.
Nebes, at Aeislun’s boyish request, picks up the elf and hurls him bodily through the air across the fresh water. The fungus curtain’s sides recede but this time the elf’s luck runs out as he strikes the rocky face of an outcrop between the two previously covered passageways. Reddened by both the impact and his poor fortune, the elf lands in the water and swims across to cut through the fungal screen.
The party follows. Scarlett nervously eyeing the fresh water, needs continuous encouragement from Rymyr to cross in front of the mossy screens. Again Nebes takes point position, tracing the gusts of wind that circulate through the cavern system, estimating rakes of cavern floors in calculated assessment of the best direction in which to travel. As ever Aeislun is never too far from the massive stone guards side but a moment of mischief leads to disaster as the elf trips the stone guard, who in turn is swept away by a tornado strength gust of air, giant hands unable to arrest his fall as he his pushed through the rocky tunnels and into a shaft below. Aeislun quick to help his struggling friend jumps after him and the two find themselves floating atop a rocky island in vast pools of steaming magma, the stone guard unhampered by the piercing height but the elf left stricken by the intense crash. Frantic cries and yells for help alert the rest of the party and some deft rope works sees the two adventures lifted from the hot volcanic flow, charred and blackened but unscathed from their brush with the hot molten lake below.
The party reunite and set to exploring the rest of the twisting passageways below the scarab’s form. Nibenay must be getting close now and all long for the sight of sunlight and respite from the toil of the hot twisting tunnels.