There’s a gigantic fight with the floating crystal, which ends up shooting lightning. After it’s destroyed it becomes clear that part of the devastation in this area has been wrought by this “creature,” although it does not account for the golden dust that was found under and around the corpses, so something else was here. You grab the goods and take off down Tunnel 35.
You’re A Fun-Gi
After seeing down Tunnel C (?) that there’s some yellow mist, Amaranthe runs in headfirst and finds out the hard way that it’s memory-stripping, and she finds herself with no memory of anything in a cave full of fungus with a pool in the middle. She fought some mushroom people but had to retreat. After going the wrong way and becoming more confused when she emerged from the mist with no memory of why she got all beat up, she and the rest of the party eventually traveled back in and smashed up the fungi again and discovered that there was a waterproof container in the pool that has a map that magically maps out the immediate surroundings as well as where you’ve been.
You use this to help you navigate north to a dead end sand pit trap that sucks you down to a lower level. Going down the tunnel to the east you run into some more traps – one that includes these floating black balls of intense cold that mess Ash up somewhat. There’s also plenty of jumping and swinging from ropes.
The group decides to head south down a tunnel, which quickly reveals that it was built by a gold-loving creature of some cunning, who hid firing traps into the rune-inscribed walls to injure trespassers. It generally works. As soon as the whole group is in his trap, the tunnel floor partially collapses, at which point a small (relatively speaking) golden dragon emerges and converses with the group for a while. He seems more interested in you than anything, but then he tries to eat you, so maybe not. Since he doesn’t seem to be working for/with the dwarves – more about that later – it seems acceptable to everyone to kill and subsequently butcher him. Amaranthe removes his arm, lugging it down with her as everyone drops to a ledge a level below.
There a cave is discovered, also surely having been constructed by the dragon, complete with a ledge full of some liquid and a giant vault. Using the dragon’s own fingernail to pop open the safe door, you find a gigantic horde of gold and jewels and some equipment. You also find a sculpture that the dragon’s been constructing out of dwarven bones and his own molten-gold-breath. Oh, yeah – that was definitely what you saw back in the dwarven outpost, so this guy was probably there making trouble. Or death.
Oh, no! There’s no possible way out of this dragon’s den that opens up to chasms on either side! Oh, wait, as soon as you light that fluid (from the safety of the inside of the vault) you see that it’s just a lighting system, and it leads you to a tunnel you can swing to, using some creative, improvised pendulum maneuvers. And everybody does!
The Way Out
There’s a bit of a snag navigating down a rope that wants to pull you up toward some spikes, but after a few detours – some to the pool at the bottom of a cavern and another to a cave behind a waterfall – you make it along to the next stretch of tunnel. Oh, and Amaranthe discovered a rocky orb that’s really light and has some pull toward her own, small chunk of rock. What a find!
The rest of the tunnel is relatively easy to maneuver, except for a treacherous stair step that injured Keyrock, but that’s just moments before you discover a way out back to the main level of the dwarven tunnels and an outpost to match. The guys there are pretty friendly and helpful in getting you bandaged up, outfitted, and moved out of the tunnels, especially when you let the dwarf captain (who seemed to be related to everyone) take hold of the captain’s log from the first outpost you encountered.
A lifting platform mechanism and trap door on the forest floor deposits you in the northern portion of the Southern Forest. The area is familiar to Dianthus, who guides you near her home village, which has come under the corrupting influence that’s been afflicting the area. No one is left in the settlement, so the group proceeds on to Ambar as planned.
Back To Town, Back To Reality
Entering town the party passes through an area that’s something of a combination between an extended stay inn and a refugee camp. There, making a new treehouse their home, are Dianthus’ tribe. An elf named Art takes her aside to explain what all had happened.
Apparently there was some bout of corruption that struck the settlement while Art and his hunting party was away. They returned to find town destroyed and themselves the only survivors. They relocated to Ambar, since they heard that a refugee community had popped up there for victims of just this kind of phenomenon.
The bigger bombshell was that the thing Dianthus has been looking for, Sarnath, was never actually missing when she was sent out of the city. She was sent on a total fool’s errand. But stranger still is the fact that it was actually stolen recently, and now her quest has a renewed purpose and meaning.
Meantime Amaranthe was terrorizing Mulatto Smith, a metalworker who was shocked and horrified at being given the task of prying golden scales from the dismembered arm of a dragon, but he and his assistant Octaroon (or was it Quadroon?) will try their damnedest. Other negotiations reveal that rubies are quite favored here. Or maybe just by the two merchants you talked to.
Convincing someone that you’re supposed to meet with Sunder was an interesting endeavor, but he commended you on your accomplishments and the information that you brought him. He agrees to provide you with all sorts of equipment as well as mounts to help you in your next mission.
Which is: go up north and find out what happened to a research team from Xanthus University that has gone missing while investigating the phenomenon of a group known only as The Wandering Children. The next day you set out with a horse whisperer who has a reputation as quite a player – Manuel. Who somehow misses the fact that Chert has selected a cow as his mount. On, Sputnik!
And Boom Goes the Dynamite
After Manuel tries and fails during the course of the journey to seduce all but one of the lady-type party members, something pretty weird happens. As you’re camping you observe a large portion of the nearby clearing begin swelling up as if there’s a giant bubble underneath it, distorting the landscape as it inflates and stretches up. When it bursts, it spews out disgusting black muck that partially splashes on Ash and coats your guide. He immediately becomes deformed to such an extent that the once-player has now become the monster Manuel.
The group puts him out of everyone’s misery and during the scuffle encounters a floating void that takes elements it comes into contact with and transforms them into other elements. When Manuel is killed, the floaty thing dissipates, but the patch of earth that was affected by the spray from the burst remains corrupted and abominable. Finally you have observed firsthand the phenomenon whose aftereffects you’ve seen a few times before. If only you knew its cause.
It Was A Zombie Jamboree
Continuing your travel north you come across a town that’s been pretty well decimated. With no one – and no bodies – being found anywhere, general devastation to most of the buildings, and a crazy number of graves having been dug up, it sure seems like something bad happened. More evidence of that corruption was present, and there was a trail of individuals who headed northeast out of the town.
Following the trail led you to a city that had erected improvised barricades to prevent entry. Captain of the guard, Michael (?), was helpful but shaken up, because as he explained this town of North Valley has recently been besieged by what seem to be moving corpses. These creatures mercilessly attacked villagers who would themselves be infected if they came in contact with the projectile vomit of the corpses. The infection could take root anywhere between an hour to days. Bad news bears if you, like Ash, have a rotting arm that seems to be getting progressively worse. The only real deterrent to these things has been fire, which they keep burning at all hours here.
Gathering provisions before setting back out is accomplished by intimidating a general store operator already frightened by the harrowing few days she’s experienced. And with that, you decide to head to Xanthus University to see if they can cure Ash’s infection.
Arriving at the school is easy enough, but the dwarven front gate guards are quite inquisitive as to your everything. Till one of them basically loses control of all bodily function upon seeing a real, live thri-kreen.
After taking your horses (and cow) through the goddamn guardhouse, an instructor at the school introduces himself as Silvanus. Turns out this grey-robed dude knows Amaranthe from way back when they were at the school together, and though he left when she did, he has since returned (obviously). He helps guide you to your quarters for the evening and arrange things so that you can meet with Lee Ra to explain your situation in the morning. Amaranthe has a weird dream, which probably meant something, I guess.
The next day at a sumptuous breakfast everyone is reasonably informed by Silvanus that the big boss will meet you, but you have a few hours to kill in the meantime. Chert and Ash get some weapons information from a scholar who is expert in the subject – he tells you a little bit about the history of projectile weapons and Elfwoe. Meantime Amaranthe has a meaningful (if somewhat hallucinatory) encounter with a mysterious, grey-robed individual, who gives her various instructions. And Dianthus and Ember sit in a garden. But at least the latter divulges the reasons she’s been uncomfortable about returning to the University – she was, by the way – which mostly surround her unwilling expulsion and banishment from the grounds over a disagreement with Chancellor Blunderbuss.
Headmaster Lee Ra has this awesome hangout that’s full of birds, and he seems pretty adept at writing for a blind guy. He tells you what little he knows about the Wandering Children and you do the same. He shares your concern for Ash’s arm but tells you there’s nothing he can do other than try to apply some topical medications that will slow the spread of the infection. Will it work? Who knows! He encourages you to set back out to capture one of these ambulatory corpses, if possible, to bring it back to the college so the professors can see if there’s any kind of cure. Oh, yeah, and find out if the research crew you were originally supposed to find have been eaten or turned or whatever.
Run Back Out!
You set out again to pick up the trail of the Wandering Children, which proves to be relatively easy, given their penchant for destruction and lack of concern for the mess they’re making. Creeping up on them, you realize that they’re headed toward a town nearby. Riding hard to beat them there, you inform the understandably confused townspeople (who are just about to go to sleep) that there’s this extremely unlikely threat coming their way. Scouting Tom does his name a proud service by discovering them but being sadly mauled in the process. The menfolk’s reasonable skepticism gives way to planning, under your guidance, to protect their loved ones and cordon off the town in a way that will essentially set it on fire.
A giant clustercuss of a fight takes place, with hordes of the zombies making their way around the sides of town but eventually being dispatched with relatively few casualties. Does Keyrock get bitten and infected? Sure, but you manage to capture one of the WC, inform the sheriff that he has to kill one of his best friends (Scouting Tom), determine that the research party was either eaten or turned, and take off back to school. Oh, and one of the larger buildings in town burns to the ground in the service of killing a single corpse. Sounds like a victory to me.
Then Back In Again!
Your re-arrival at the University goes a tad smoother than the last one, and you promptly gain an audience with Lee Ra, who, as you arrive, is meeting with none other than Chancellor Blunderbuss. That guy balks at seeing Ember, but she smooths things over by handing over Amaranthe’s rock orb. Hey, when did she steal that? He breaks it open to reveal that it was a geode containing a plaque of some kind with an unknown script inscribed on it. Possibly pre- Disaster. Everyone’s chummy again, and Ember announces that she’s gonna stay at the school. Peace, suckas!
Silvanus again seems concerned about Amaranthe’s eating habits, and he takes care of the zombie you’ve got tied up, while you guys conference. You update Lee Ra on everything that’s gone down and find out a bit about him in the process, including the fact that he had an old flame in Etern with whom he had a falling out. Is this the mysterious mother of his two children, who look absolutely nothing alike?
Turns out a group of magicians at the school have been experimenting with drawing energy/power/elements/whatever out of things, so they try an untested method of actually drawing the necrotic infection out of Ash and Keyrock’s bodies. Everybody’s fine, and on top of that, Lee Ra has a new assignment for you that Sunder has already approved:
The guy who taught old Lee Ra everything he knows, Azimuth, has gone missing while mapping out Gane Island in Etern. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is determine where he is and bring him back home. (Hopefully he’s not dead.) Probably the best way to get there is to take a ship across the Brown Sea from the port town of Linking. Unfortunately the way there is pretty dangerous, since you have to go through the Disputed Territories, first through Bison Folk territory and then through the Wolf Riders’. Luckily about halfway there is the settlement of Platter, which is currently host to the main deployment of the Lesting Army’s Northern Corps, and by extension, Lee Ra’s younger son, Batten.
And Out Once More
Outfitted with new gear and provisions you make your way toward Platter along a well-traveled road. On the way you encounter a genteel-voiced man named Asphodel who’s hiking. This dude’s pretty unusual for a handful of reasons, but he manages to convince you all through various means that he should take you on as bodyguards, since your trip to Linking coincides with his own. He promises you a small fortune each for working for him, and you ride to Platter together.