The light may be at the end of the tunnel, but what’s this in the middle?
We begin the evening with our heroes gathered around the mutilated deer carcass and watching the sky with an air of accusation, as if suspicious that one of the clouds drifting serenely by is responsible for the mess before them.
Cues is uncomfortably looking at the sky.
Rorek is uncomfortably looking at his hands.
Turqeel is comfortably looking at the carcass.
The party agrees that whatever did this, they don’t want to be around when it comes back. Warily watching the sky, they continue south.
They move on, Froderick drinking an insane amount too often to be healthy. The grass growing in place of his hair appears to be a bit longer, and quivers in the breeze. As their trek continues, Chickens has two magical surges, one as they are walking, and one when they stop for lunch. To Chickens vast relief, there is no noticeable effect from the magic. Russellbob regales the party by counting the clouds and telling them what he thinks particular clouds look like and waxing philosophical on states of matter and the ever changing nature of the universe. Froderick listens absently to his friend, while Cues grits his teeth at the constant chatter. Chickens and Turqeel hang back and lets the party get ahead. Turqeel focuses more on talking to Chickens than any possible dangers in the terrain around them.
Cynd, realizing the danger of being too close to Chickens, decides to range ahead. To the east of the trail is a ridge, and Smoke lies atop a rock, looking out over the view, and relaxing in the sun. The road goes over a rise, and beyond is a wide forested valley.
Rorek and Jarlath walk ahead of the group, and Cynd shadows him further back in the trees. The trees get much thicker the further into the valley they walk, to the point where they are walking more in shade than in sunlight. As Cynd moves through the forest watching for threats, Smoke lies in wait on a low limb and gives a swat to his head as he passes under.
As Cynd is moving through the forest, enjoying the woods and all nature has to offer, he sees a large hole angling down into the ground at the base of a tree. The hole burrows into the earth at a steep angle and is about four feet from bottom to top and closer to seven feet wide from side to side. From what light shines down inside, Cynd can see some roots of the tree jutting down from the dirt ceiling.
Eyeing it for second, Cynd collects Rorek and Jarlath, who then waits for the rest of the group. Chickens and a slightly frustrated looking Turqeel arrive last. Chickens has another surge, but other than briefly tasting rotten meat, there seems to be no other effect. Smoke comes up casually alongside Cynd, and he gets the gist of the scent of insects from her as she sniffs cautiously at the tunnel opening.
Impatiently, Rorek asks, “WELL?! What’re ye thinkin’ then?”
Cynd glances at him in slight irritation, answering, “It looks to me like a nest…”
“Of what?” chirps Russellbob.
Cynd shakes his head, mystified.
“How big?” Jarlath asks, eyeing the size of the tunnel opening, but is unanswered.
“Anyone interested in going in?” Russellbob asks quietly.
Cynd watches Smoke, who is to beside him, sniffing at the tunnel mouth ears back, tail slowly going side to side.
Cynd suggests that he Russellbob inspect the tunnel, as they can move more quietly than the others. He and Cynd, followed closely by Smoke, slowly start down the mouth of the tunnel. Cynd has to crouch over to get in. Silence be damned, Chickens decides to follow along behind, and Rorek follows him. The shaded light from outside doesn’t extend very far down the tunnel. As the light fades, Russellbob, who doesn’t have the ability to see in darkness, opens his locket containing his stone of Continual Light. This immediately blinds the eyes of everyone in the tunnel. The burst of near sunlight blasts down the tunnel, illuminating edges of stones, plant roots, and occasional earthworms in the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. An elf shaped shadow extends down its center.
Cynd snaps at Russellbob to close the locket before they draw too much attention to themselves. When Russellbob closes the locket, sudden press of darkness leaves afterimages on everyone’s eyes. Unequipped with infravision, Russellbob heads back out of the tunnel to it’s surface. Smoke turns and pushes by Chickens and Rorek to move back outside. Cynd, Chickens, and Rorek wait a few moments for their vision to clear, and slowly advance down the tunnel. The tunnel becomes more level, and turns towards the right as the last ribbons of light from the surface fade out, and all becomes black. Eyes shift over to infravision, and the tunnel appears to their vision to be a uniform light blue color. The blue shades are slightly brighter or more subtle in various areas and faint black outlines can be seen to show occasional stones. After the curve of the tunnel, it straightens out. Cynd glances back at Chickens, immediately regretting it, as Chickens’ nasal chasm looks even worse with infravision somehow.
Cynd draws his dagger, and moves further into the blueness, followed closely by Chickens and Rorek. Just up ahead in the a movement catches Cynd’s eye, stopping him short. Studying for a second, he sees a mass filling the tunnel. Cynd motions for everyone to stop and be silent. The temperature of what appears to be some creature in front of him is so near to the temperature of the background that it is difficult to make out. Cynd focuses on the animal before him, and tries to reach out to telepathically connect to it.
Cynd is able to establish a link with the creature, and is puzzled to find only the most rudimentary of animal intelligence….that is somehow linked to a greater intelligence just outside of his ability to grasp. From this beast, which Cynd is still unable to define with his eyes, he senses a hunger and a defensive, animalistic sense of guarding. Cynd determines that this is an insectoid creature of some kind. He can start to make out the thin black lines edging the antennae as it feels around for what it senses in front of it, but Cynd, Chickens and Rorek are still back out of reach.
Cynd determinedly mentally reaches out, and tries to calm it and show him that he means no harm. The perspective that comes back is completely alien to anything Cynd has ever perceived before. It is cold, flat and emotionless. It is the embodiment that anything unlike itself is no more than food, and it is incapable of considering that there is any other possibility. It’s a sense of menace, but a menace totally devoid of evil intent. It is completely unfeeling. The nest must be fed.
Cynd whispers to the others, “There’s…something there. Some creature. It knows we’re here-” He breaks off as thin black lines that outline the creature separate from the surrounding background. Cynd reflects momentarily that perhaps telling Russellbob to quell the light wasn’t the best thought.
As the beast starts to move forward, Cynd has time to realize that it is much larger than he thought. The closer it gets, the more the small party can make out of it. It moves faster, sure that something is before it. He can hear the CLACK, CLACK of huge mandibles slamming together, but the blurriness of the moving shades of blue is disorienting. It fills the tunnel, putting Cynd at a cramped disadvantage, as he has to remain stooped over.
Chickens rushes in to Cynd’s left, as Cynd draws his short sword and rushes forward scuttling forward on his fists and toes directly ACROSS the mandibles, aiming towards the creature’s head. the creature lifts the mandibles up in response, giving enough room for Chickens to duck under and swing Headsplasher upwards at them in an attack. The attack glances past the bony extensions, and slams into the tunnel ceiling bringing a shower of dirt down onto him.
Cynd scoots across the rising projections, short sword leading the way. But he overreaches, and as the sword connects it scrapes a line directly up across the top of the hard carapace of the creature instead of piercing through. Cynd is overstretched, and completely unbalanced. As he slips down, he tries to twist But with a clap forceful enough to feel, he is crushed between the long pinchers, partially upside down. His dagger drops to the dirt. Chickens can see the heat from his hand fading from the hilt before it covered by the bright red/orange of the patter of falling blood. The short sword slides down the front of the thing, against Cynd’s limp body, then to the ground as well.
There is a mighty shout, and in charges Rorek. He plows forward along the right side of the closed mandibles trapping Cynd. He swings his axe in sideways over Cynd, toward the head of the large insect. With a wet crack, his axe slams home. Rorek roars in satisfaction. The creature starts clumsily reversing with its prize, heading back down the tunnel. From basically right atop it, Bellowing in rage and battle lust, Rorek continues his assault. With an audible CRUNCH, Rorek’s axe opens a gush of light blue gore that cascades over Cynd.
The second swing is less dwarfly than the first, and it’s armored shell turns the blade.
The large beast drops Cynd, and backs faster down the tunnel. Looking to disable it’s primary weapon, Chickens focuses on trying to shatter it’s mandibles with Headsplasher. As the creature reacts to the axe blow from Rorek, it opens its pinchers wide in agony. Headsplasher passes directly between them as they open. Cynd falls to land face down upon his sword in a swirls of orange and blue fluids.
Outside the tunnel, back in daylight, the waiting group hears the battle roars of Rorek travel up towards them…