Chapter 8: Mud and Tentacles
Winding passages of mud.
Filth and confusion.<
~ Miyara Miwa
I looked down the dark hole, seeing only Res Li in a small pool of light from his lantern about 40 feet down. I could see nothing else. After a short while, he called up to us haul him back up, and we did so.
While he was down the hole, he had used that odd ability of his to see past walls.
He saw a partly finished room, cut out of the rock but not well-finished in the faerie style. The floor was covered with about 2 feet of wet mud and was a very dark brown. He saw an exit to one side. The only contents were the decaying bodies of two ogres, which no doubt accounted at least partially for the miasma of scent that rolled up the hole to where we stood. It must have been a very tight fit for them to get here through that hole. The room was about 12 feet high, and the exit passage about 10. He said the passage turned after about 20 feet and was still covered in mud as far as he could see.
We decided to anchor the rope up here and climb down. As long as someone else did not come along behind us and detach it, we could climb back up. Mongo pointed out that even if someone did detach the rope, he could probably toss Res Li up to this room, and he could then re-attach the rope for us.
Kyosuke wondered if Res Li could see a way to drain the mud on the floor beneath it. I asked if he could, but he said no, there was nothing under the mud. Just a solid floor. Which also meant that this strange vertical hole ended or began right there. Something shot up through it, perhaps?
Kyosuke was also concerned over my self and possessions and thought we should take a raft so I would not have to slog through the mud. A kind thought, but I did not bother to translate it. I could not fight effectively from a small and unsteady platform. Why would these barbarians agree to pull me along on a raft? I am a warrior, after all, not a fine lady. They naturally seem to look upon me as a leader, and a leader does not ask of her people that which she is not willing to do herself.
Jeisan started lowering people down the hole. The White Faerie left some of his heavier belongings up here, along with the chest. Res Li set a trap on it and we concealed it as best we could with the detritus here. I had little left, and I carried it all with me.
Mongo went first, with a lantern. We sent a board down next so he could set his the lantern on it and free his hands to aid the rest of us.
Kyosuke followed, then I was lowered down. Everyone else followed, then Jeisan tied off the rope up there and climbed down himself. The mud really was about 2 feet deep, which was chest-high on Res Li, so Mongo carried him on his shoulders.
Nothing being in this room, we started towards the exit, the thick mud pulling at our legs with every step. It was up over my knees, and we all slogged through it slowly. My boots could probably be cleaned once we return to the surface, but the clothes I was wearing would likely be past recovery. At least I was dressed like a barbarian peasant at the time. The few good clothes I had left were carefully stowed away in my pack, which I carried above the mud.
Kyosuke and I led, then Mongo with Res Li, who carried a lantern, Jeisan, Sutoiko, Ravena (with a lantern), Caramela, Sun (with a lantern), Shan, Ash, and finally the White Faerie.
At the bend in the tunnel, we could either continue or turn. There was only mud in both directions. We continued with the bend, and came to another unfinished room. There was another exit from that room, but nothing else. Res Li took a glance under the mud and saw nothing but the floor. As we walked through the room, Res Li shouted out, "mudskippers!" I told Kyosuke what he had said, but none of us could actually see whatever it was he warned us against. Res Li said they were everywhere, some of them clinging to us like leeches. I wondered if salt would take care of them, but it did not really matter, since I had none anyway.
I asked Res Li if I had any of them on me, and he said two were on my boots. I saw nothing but strings of mud. One string was on the inside of my ankle, and I tried to squish it between both ankles, but it did not really squish. Then I grabbed an arrow and poked at one. That worked: the arrow pierced it and it turned to mud in reality. I poked the other one, and the others followed suit.
As Kyosuke entered the exit tunnel, Res Li shouted something, just as a sideways portcullis slammed into Kyosuke. Kyosuke, warned by the shout even though he could not understand it, twisted away, but was badly chewed up. Thankfully he was not trapped completely by it. He also managed to twist back into the room, so he was not trapped on the other side from us.
Ravena immediately stepped up to help Kyosuke, who passed out just as quickly. Jeisan held him up out of the mud so Ravena could care for him.
We posted some guards, and Ash started to whack through the portcullis with an axe. I stood near Kyosuke, watching Ravena.
I heard Caramela say, "That does not look right," and the mud started to boil up and a tentacle reached out and grabbed her.
Ravena left my cousin and turned towards Caramela, and Jeisan shouted for someone to take Kyosuke so he could fight. Other tentacles came up out of the mud and attacked us.
I attacked one that was near Kyosuke, and the others fought as well. Ravena turned back to Kyosuke and took him from Jeisan, so he could join the battle. A quick glance told me that Mongo had beaten away the tentacle around Caramela, then I returned to my fight, Kyosuke also taken care of.
We fought them to a draw: as one fled our blades, another would take its place. Sheer attrition could have given the tentacles our lives, but instead of pressing on, they all suddenly withdrew.
Res Li looked beneath the mud and the floor and saw the origin of the tentacles. He pointed out the body to us. He said it was an octupus-looking thing that seemed to swim somehow in the very earth. So perhaps, even though it seemed to continually put out more tentacles, there was only so much damage it could take at once. I could hope.
Ash went back to hacking through the portcullis, and the White Faerie tried to drive Mongo's extra short sword through the floor into the creature's body with his maul. It was a worthy effort, but only the tip reached through. Res Li said the creature moved towards the exit, and four tentacles came back up and attacked Ash.
They pulled him under, and Jason, Mongo, and the White Faerie were just barely able to defeat the tentacles and pull him back up again before he drowned. I stood nearby, ready but useless, as I could not get in close enough to attack tentacles without harming Ash beneath the mud.
Ravena started healing those of us who were injured, and Jeisan started hacking through the portcullis. Res Li watched carefully, but the creature disappeared down the passage ahead of us. I was certain we would meet it again.
Jeisan finished his task long before Ravena, but we stayed long enough so we were healthy enough to meet the octopus again, or any other creatures down here. It was worth the extra time.
Before continuing down the cleared tunnel, we re-arranged ourselves. Jeisan carried Res Li in the front, so he could take careful looks at (and beneath) everything before we got there. Kyosuke followed, then me, Sutoiko, Ravena, Caramela, Ash, Sun, Shan, the White Faerie, and finally Mongo.
We walked down the passageway safely, if muddily, and came to another room, this one finished. It was very large and tall, and had a stage, whose floor was well above the mud, and several other exits. With a place to get out of the mud for a while and clean ourselves off, we climbed up gratefully. The mud there smelled as bad as anywhere, despite the tall ceiling, and was very sticky. Res Li tried to guide us around some benches hidden under the mud, but we bumped into some anyway.
We scraped as much mud off ourselves as we could, and searched and destroyed the mud-worms. The White Faerie was quite upset, as his boot nails had been eaten away, and in fact anything metal that had been under the mud unprotected was damaged or gone. I was wearing very little metal, and I inspected my two swords minutely. Their wooden scabbards, vastly superior to the flimsy leather things they use here in the west, had protected them quite well. Still, afterwards I carried them as far away from the mud as I could, and carefully wiped them and the scabbards clean at every opportunity.
Feeling much better after removing pounds of mud, we turned our attention to the stage we were on. The walls around the stage were covered with rotting, deep blue cloth. Jeisan reached for a piece to wipe off his boots, but it crumbled into dust at his touch. There was nothing but a wall behind it.
The opening from the stage was out of the mud, which was a relief, but the other doors were not. Res Li looked through the door on the stage, but the corridor on the other side sloped down and back into the mud anyway.
Res Li looked through the other doors, on Mongo's shoulders. One had a finished passage as far as he could see, with another door from it about 10 feet in. The other one curved past his sight.
He described it carefully to Ravena, who appeared to have a good head for maps. She said she had a fairly clear idea how it all fit together.